When President Trump returned to his home town of New York City on Monday night, he received anything but a warm welcome.
Trump was returning to his eponymous tower for the first time since being inaugurated.
Protesters gathered in the shadow of Trump Tower on Monday evening, filling the sidewalk for several blocks and forming a gantlet of signs and chants that ran several blocks down Fifth Avenue. Various organizers and a popular Facebook event had called for people to gather at Trump Tower starting at 5:30 p.m., and law enforcement was ready. Protesters were kept to the sidewalks with metal barricades, and the numbers gradually swelled as the evening progressed.
For hours, protesters chanted “New York hates you!” and “Shame, shame, shame!”
New York City is, famously, a liberal bastion (with the notable exception of the borough of Staten Island). Though Trump was born in the borough of Queens and made his name as a Manhattan real estate developer and tabloid fixture, his home town has been less than proud of its native son.
Numerous protests have racked the city since Trump was elected. Thousands marched up to Trump Tower the night after the election to protest his victory. New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport also saw major protests following Trump’s initial travel ban on individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries.
His first return to Trump Tower was always going to be an affair. But the recent white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville — and Trump’s initial blame of “many sides” for the violence that ensued — upset both liberals and conservatives alike.
“His hateful rhetoric caused what happened in Charlottesville,” said Ronald Gerring, who was visiting New York from Chicago along with his wife, Lachandra Geri. Though it was a birthday trip for Gerring, the two decided to protest.
“He didn’t seem to be concerned to voice that he was against Charlottesville. But he’s so against every other issue,” he said.
“I didn’t know we’d have to protest Nazis in 2017,” said James Brennan, who attended the protest with a sign supporting LGBT rights.
On Monday, before traveling to New York City, Trump issued another statement on Charlottesville that more forcefully condemned racist groups. “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans,” Trump said.
But these newly blunt words did little to erase the skepticism raised by his initial statements.
By the time Trump touched down in New York City, his detractors were ready for a fight. People at the Trump Tower protest spoke out against the president’s position on a number of issues, from immigration to foreign policy to women’s and LGBT rights.
“This is personal for me,” said Binh Thai, a New York City teacher whose family fled Vietnam after the war. He said his family’s experience as refugees had made him critical of Trump’s strict stance on immigration and accepting refugees.
“He should be a uniter. All he’s done is divide us and Balkanize us” as a country, he said. Thai noted that his family was divided on Trump; his brother, a businessman, supported some of Trump’s economic policies. But Thai said his family was united against the president on most social issues.
In the end, Trump declined to give New Yorkers a show. Though several blacked-out sport utility vehicles and police on motorcycles drove down Fifth Avenue, drawing jeers from the crowd, the president was nowhere in sight. According to the White House pool report, Trump’s motorcade avoided Fifth Avenue and the protesters, whisking the president into his residence without being seen by the crowd.
The lines of protesters eventually thinned out. By 9:30, only a few dozen of the initial demonstrators remained, chanting on the sidewalk as they milled and chatted among themselves in the barricaded street.
“He avoided the people he’s supposed to take care of,” said Ashley Tsegai, 20.
Many protesters felt that though Trump had not seen them, their presence at the demonstration was effective.
“If you’re silent, you’re part of hate speech,” said Carlos Laureano, who moved to New York from Puerto Rico two years ago. “We can’t be silent.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of Binh Thai as Bihn Thai. It has been corrected.