Thirty-six hours after his last broadcast began, Derrick Ingram took to Instagram Live once again to address his friends.
The activist, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter-linked Warriors in the Garden, was understandably tired after the last day and a half, and, in defiance of his paleo diet, craving for Shake Shack.
“It’s been so hectic. How am I? I don’t know how I am yet,” said Ingram on Saturday as he waited for more viewers to tune in before debriefing.
Around 7 am Friday morning, Ingram was greeted by the sound of NYPD officers banging on the door of his Hell’s Kitchen apartment as dogs barked alongside them. A police helicopter whirred overhead and drones flew near his window. Downstairs, dozens of officers waited in riot gear, blocking off the street.
After consulting with his Warriors in the Garden group, he decided to go live. “I wanted to show the world exactly how we got treated,” Ingram told VICE News in a phone conversation.
When Ingram asked for a warrant, an officer slipped him a business card instead. It identified him as an officer for the Manhattan Warrant Squad, the same agency which made headlines for arresting 18-year-old protester Nikki Stone in Manhattan last month and throwing her in an unmarked van.
The name on the card was familiar; it was the same card from the same office he says he had been handed at another apartment building he had been staying at a few months earlier, when he first became a fixture at George Floyd protests in the city. For weeks, an officer had been knocking each door on his floor, because the apartments didn’t have letters or numbers. Five times his door had been knocked, and the one time he answered, he said, that officer told him, “Your parents are worried about you and you need to call them.” Shortly afterwards, he said, his apartment was broken into, and documents were taken.
Ingram said he came close to opening the door on Friday, but heeded the advice of Warriors in the Garden co-founder Kiara Williams, who told him not to open the door until a warrant could be produced.
Out on the street, a crowd had begun to form, chanting, “This is what democracy looks like” as Ingram consulted with his lawyers.
Ingram said his phone had frozen, and that he believes his signal had been interfered with. With all that was going on, five hours seemed to pass in a blur.
The police lingered around until nearly 1 pm before leaving without making an arrest. Ingram was able to sleep in his own bed, but not as soundly as usual.
“I guess I am a little traumatized,” he said. “Last night I got up and I heard helicopters. A cop car drove by the place I was staying and literally I jumped up and started sweating and stuff, so I think it’s gonna take me a while to get over it.”
“I guess I am a little traumatized.”
“But I’m gonna keep protesting, keep fighting. I won’t be intimidated because that’s a part of their tactics. They want me to be traumatized, they want us to be scared, they want us to give in, and we definitely won’t.”
The following morning, Ingram, dressed in a red flannel shirt and black cap, addressed a crowd outside Bryant Park at 8 am. Upon the advice of his legal counsel, Ingram would be turning himself in to face the charges, but he did so with about one hundred other supporters marching uptown towards the 18th Precinct on 54th Street and Eighth Avenue, where he was booked on charges of assault in the second degree, a felony which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years, and obstructing governmental administration in the second degree. While in his cell, Ingram said, he could hear the protesters outside.
The complaint alleged that, at a protest in Midtown on June 14, Ingram had placed a megaphone over an internal affairs officer’s ear and shouted, which the officer claims caused “substantial pain and temporary hearing loss.” At his arraignment, the lead charge was reduced to third degree, making it a misdemeanor. Ingram was released on his own recognizance with an order to return to court on November 6.
Ingram declined to comment on the charges, because it’s an active case.
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance denounced the NYPD’s show of force, with spokesperson Danny Frost stating, “Our office does not condone the extraordinary tactics employed by police on Friday. These actions were disproportionate to the alleged offense that occurred two months ago, and unjustifiably escalated conflict between law enforcement and the communities we serve.”
News organizations like the New York Times and NBC reported on the standoff, with politicians and activists from around the city chiming in with support for Ingram. Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced approval for NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea’s decision to stand down, while police unions blasted him for disengaging.
Past the trauma, Ingram said, the incident was a demonstration of what he had been trying to point out.
“I think it was very apparent in how it escalated that the NYPD has no interest in deescalating,” said Ingram. “I was an unarmed Black man; they vilified me before they even had a warrant. I think that’s a prime example of how the system works against people of color.”
“They vilified me before they even had a warrant. I think that’s a prime example of how the system works against people of color.”
Ingram laid out a few goals that he believes Black Lives Matter should work towards in New York, beginning with the ouster of Commissioner Shea. “I think Commissioner Shea and everything he did goes to show that we need to elect our police commissioner, how much power our police commissioner has and how lawless and corrupt Commissioner Shea is,” said Ingram. Another would be chipping away at qualified immunity, which has shielded police officers and public officials from civil action as the result of police brutality.
To that end, Ingram said that Warriors in the Garden will be releasing a statement “soon” announcing a “legislative and operative coalition between us and every other Black Lives Matter group within New York City,” with the objective being to align their demands and goals.
“I think if we’re all on the same page, sharing resources and knowledge, then we will be unstoppable, and we will propel the change that needs to happen in the city,” added Ingram.
There was no sign-up sheet when Warriors in the Garden formed. Some of the members knew each other from being active in the local political scene, but none were particularly close. They met at the frontlines of a protest on May 28, following George Floyd’s death, responding to an Instagram post for a short-notice protest, and immediately vibed.
“We made this joke that we were all the loud friend in the group because we were literally all the ones that were in front,” said Ingram. They exchanged numbers and formed a group chat on an encrypted app. The group’s name comes from a Japanese proverb: “It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.”
The group, which promotes itself as non-violent activists, has taken its
message around the city, even in neighborhoods where they aren’t likely to be received well. At an action on July 12 in the conservative Queens neighborhood of Bayside, Warriors activist Yacine Diallo was beaten by police and arrested during a counter-protest of a “Back the Blue” pro-NYPD rally. Diallo was charged with inciting a riot, attempted assault, disorderly conduct, and harassment. Diallo directed questions to his attorney from the Legal Aid Society, citing his pending charges.
At around six feet tall with a muscular build, Ingram looks imposing, but speaks thoughtfully, with a measured tone. He sees himself as shy, and said he had to be “begged” in the group chat to take a more public role. “I don’t want to be the face of the movement at all,” said Ingram. “I just want to be part of it.” Aside from giving speeches, Ingram also writes the organization’s press releases and runs their social media accounts.
A self-described “military brat” growing up, Ingram was born in Hawaii and moved frequently, to states like Florida and Louisiana, before settling in the St. Louis area for high school and undergrad. Among the people he’d see around the neighborhood was Michael Brown, the unarmed 18-year-old who was gunned down by a Ferguson police officer in 2014, sparking a wave of protest that was a direct predecessor to the one the country is now experiencing.
Ingram was out on the streets protesting in Ferguson, where he met other activists like Cori Bush, who recently pulled off a massive primary upset over William Lacy Clay in the state’s 1st Congressional District. Ingram wasn’t close with Brown, but he was close with Thaddeus McCaroll, who was was shot and killed by police in 2015 during what was described as a mental health call. Ingram couldn’t help but see similarities to the situation he found himself in last week.
After college, Ingram found a job in digital marketing and sales strategy which allowed him to travel 75 percent of the time. He backpacked through Europe and went to Montreal, but was pleasantly surprised when he arrived in New York City.
“I fell in love with the city, I fell in love with the guys, and I didn’t want to leave. Never thought I would like New York City, I thought it was dirty and disgusting,” said Ingram, who will mark two years in New York on August 15.
His activism had been a point of contention with his parents, who had asked him to stop attending protests. They worried about his lack of close family in the area, and that his rising profile in the activism scene could make it hard for him to return to the corporate world.
“I don’t think that’s a possibility anymore,” said Ingram. “Which I’m OK with as well.”
Ingram was able to find some measure of comfort after being released from custody. “Sleep and self care and reflecting,” Ingram said. And how about the Shake Shack? “Two double Shack burgers, lettuce, bun, three cheese fries, and a stomach ache.”
While Ingram recovered, the marching continued.
“I think it’s just that visceral pain of another Black body, another death. The history of people being vilified in their country because of the color of their skin. Everything that I’ve seen on a personal level or experienced, that same frustration and pain is what has bonded Warriors in the Garden,” said Ingram.
“My worst fear is this happening to an activist that didn’t have a platform or a following. I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. All of that combined motivates me on a daily basis because I want to create the change that I preach about and talk about.”