“I live in a community, we're interested in protecting it in a peaceful manner” - Diary of a New Yorker on anti-looting patrol
Serge Kass is a member of the Russian-speaking community in South Brooklyn. He's organized a group to patrol the area and report suspicious activity to the police to prevent looting. He tells RTD why he got involved and what things are like in New York City during the riots.
Friday, June 5
I arrived in the United States in 2000. I've been here for a while. I do photography and videography. I have a studio in Long Island City. It's super peaceful over there.
I live in South Brooklyn, in the Midwood and Sheepshead Bay area. I'm part of the Russian-speaking community based here. I'm from the Republic of Moldova. As it used to be under the Soviet regime, this is how I learned to speak Russian, French, and English. My native language is Romanian.
I have a lot of Russian friends, and I don't distinguish based on origins. Because I live in this area, it's very close to me, like family. I have friends that own restaurants. It's very close to me when someone tries to destroy someone's property. I do express a lot of solidarity towards other businesses because building a business in New York is super hard. There are a lot of things that get in the way.
When the looting and the protests started in New York, not the peaceful ones, me and Tatiana D., we created a group on Facebook, Standing up for NYC, because we noticed a lot of hate speech. The Antifa agenda is against a lot of businesses organized by the so-called White group.
They put our colour on us [Standing up for NYC], which is wrong. They use the word "White", but the Russian-speaking community is huge. There are people from Russia, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Georgia. There are a lot of us. All of us, we speak Russian more or less. This is common ground for us in communication.
Within three days, we gathered more than 6,000 members, people that are thinking alike. A couple of hundred are actively patrolling a night.
We divide ourselves through different areas of Brooklyn. We patrol in groups of 2-3 cars with 2-3 persons in each. We're just monitoring and providing information to the authorities. We report suspicious activity, people gathering, certain groups. There are a couple of precincts we work directly with.
If we see cars will illegal plates on, we have people who can run plates. But that's not enough to trigger a report. Some people register their cars in other areas because of the high insurance premiums we have here. But if we see certain groups and certain activities that make us believe they have something to do with illegal activities, we report that.
We're not interested in arresting people, in beating them up, in invoking any kind of fear. We're not armed therefore it would be a stupid move to let them know we're there because most of them are armed. If they go against us, we can't go against them. If someone were to attack me, if they pull out a knife, I'd have to apply the moves that I learned in childhood and that I practice in the gym, that my instructor taught me, but it's not that easy. You can't deflect a knife much, or a Molotov cocktail thrown at you.
The police are in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn. The South of Brooklyn is being left out. If I'm not mistaken, there are only 38,000 police officers in New York City. I've met a couple of sergeants from the local precinct here, they say they're mobilised in different areas, but there's a deficiency. They need them elsewhere.
The biggest problem we're facing is not even that. The biggest problem is the inaction of the local authorities. The Mayor is inactive when it comes to all this protest. He accuses cops of drawing weapons towards protesters, without his being there and acknowledging why that specific cop is doing that. Was his life in danger or not?
The only thing the Mayor says is he doesn't encourage the violent protest, but he doesn't enforce it. For the third day in a row we have riots, we have looting, we have all that. The National Guard is not mobilised because they think it's not the time for it, so what is the time for it? Should we wait till we have buildings in flames before they mobilize the National Guard? Don't they think it will take more time to rebuild then than now?
We also have infiltration in our group from Antifa members, that are masking themselves as peaceful. When they get access to our groups, then the bad words come out, that we're stupid.
The worst part of this is that peaceful protesters don't even know they have Antifa protesters among them. There's a huge number of Antifa doing this; they are growing. They're all over New York; they're organized, they get together, maybe they even have a leader. They commute together with the peaceful protesters and all of a sudden they're dissipating. Once they reach specific points of interest, they become a body by themselves, they come together, and they attack.
They don't believe in peaceful protest; they believe things are done through damage. Most of them, they think discrimination is still happening, that there is still discrimination in their community. We can't say the whole society is discriminating against African Americans just because we need justice.
I'm totally against racism. For me the only colour is the human colour, it's you being a human being. I understand it's such a sensitive topic, especially slavery back in the day; I wish we could go back and do things differently. Society has evolved; a lot of things have adapted.
Floyd's death is very tragic. Words do not express. But you cannot accuse all of society; you cannot put a bad shade on the New York Police Department, on all police officers, because not all police officers are like that. Not all the cops are bad. Unfortunately, that's what they're painting. In that case, you have to go against the whole of society.
I still have jobs, money-wise, I'm OK. It could be better for sure, but I'm OK.
Did you notice that everything COVID-wise dissipated when this whole thing started? I believe that that added up as well to the protests because a lot of people were left out of jobs. So the financial difficulties they're facing at this point are huge. Although the president approved the aid package, a lot of people are in financial difficulty. How long can $1,200 help you for, one month, two months?
Yesterday was quiet. Today we've got a lot of intelligence about things going on here and there, and patrols are seeing not so good activity around our area, First of all, the police presence is heightened. There are a lot of suspicious cars driving around. Cars with packages inside, plastic bags filled with rocks, bricks and stuff like that.
The violence mainly happens at night, after 9 pm. A couple of days ago, a couple of guys in our group were able to stop looting at a Target store. Cars approached filled with people registered out of New York. By the time the police came, three fled the scene. They were able to catch one guy. They took pictures.
There's a lot of coordination. The looters are breaking in and grabbing stuff and getting out. They don't leave indications they're doing it for political reasons. They were breaking in to steal and then resell that. You can't feed yourself with a Fendi belt or a Gucci bag. Why don't you collect the food donations that we have in the area if you're hungry?
It's the third night I slept only 3-4 hours. I'm going to be here for as long as I can.
Tonight, we're gathering at 7.30 pm with the whole crew, and then we'll plan.
Saturday, June 6
Today, it went less good; we had some issues. One member was being followed by a big SUV with Texas number plates, with individuals trying to catch her for a couple of blocks. They were running red lights. I don't know what their intentions were. Nadia, she's a nurse, she's one of the volunteers. We were able to meet with her. At that point, they fled because they understood she was running from them and towards someone.
So it was a little bit intense yesterday, but not as bad as three days ago. Today, it's much better weather outside, so we're assuming things are going down again, mainly because it's not even 4 pm and the protest's already started in Downtown Brooklyn, and they're going south.
Sunday, June 7
Things are OK. The curfew is over. There are no more restrictions after 8 pm. Things are starting to get back to normal, I guess. There were some encounters with the police, there were some vans that stopped in our areas, but the police are very vigilant about it.
We attracted attention from the police side, so they're patrolling more than before. I guess there's not so much action in downtown, or they're organized a little bit better.
The weather got better. When it's not raining, there's more of a presence; I'm talking of cars from out of state, with tinted windows all the way up--a lot of people walking on the streets. There are scooters, bikes, people that don't really belong to the area, they've never been seen there before.
We're more organized; there's more of us, we're growing every day.
Right now, we're in the park on Staten Island me and my wife and my son because I'm not spending enough time with them, but tonight it's back to the same thing.
Yesterday we met up with the guys who started this whole thing, me and another two guys, the whole crew. We came up with a video stating that after this is over, we're shaking hands and we're getting back to normal life.
We're the ones who started this whole group, we didn't want to attract a lot of attention to us, but there are two guys, Isaac and Dmitry, who went to Voice of America, claiming to be the organization's leaders.
First of all, they started a campaign to buy bullet-proof vests. It's stupid because we're not going to war with anyone. They're trying to make a big deal out of it, but not in a good way. They're trying to get too far into it, to turn a political agenda, but we're not trying to come up with a leader, we don't want to make politics out of this.
By the way, nothing to do with looting and everything. We have a lady, Angie. She's four months off graduating from the police academy. Her husband is a police officer. She knows some inside intel from the precinct.
There's a woman she was sexually abused; her kid was taken away from her. Morally she's very wounded. Angie knew that the police, they've been looking for a while for this girl who was raped because she might need psychological help.
Guess what, she found the girl sleeping in the street, in deep emotional distress! So we mobilised super quick, about ten people in the area. We went each to our house, got something warm she could put on her, found food, we even had a nurse dress a wound on her leg. She's super shy and in shock from being raped. She refused help because she's very shy, she's from Uzbekistan. The people over there are very educated; they feel they're going to handle the situation by themselves.
We promised to come back today. We're trying to get with the local community, engage some pro bono lawyers to get her documents because everything she had was stolen from her.
We're super thankful. Somewhere deep inside, I feel accomplished that we were able to help her out.
I went home at 5 am; the sun was already rising.
Tuesday 9th June
We had some incidents last night.
We were slowly cruising and at 12.04 am on Coney Island avenue and Y avenue, we noticed two men. One was wearing a mask, one a balaklava. For the night, it's a really odd thing to wear, because there was no one in the street, so it's not like they were observing the distance, six feet.
They approached a smoke shop. The first one started pulling the glass door, the second one approaches and pulls it, then the first is looking around to check no one's around. They were definitely trying to get in. They had very expensive accessories inside, vapers that cost $400-$600.
Once they saw us, they started to cross the street. Within a couple of seconds, a Nissan Ultima TLC picked them up. It was clearly waiting for them because if you call for a TLC car you wait awhile. They went onto the highway. I had another guy of ours follow them and they were doing 85mph when they're only allowed to do 55. And those plates were fake TLC plates.
We have a NYPD officer in our squad. She was patrolling also and she noticed two guys in in the Manhattan Beach area, They went out into the bushes and got something out and put it into a car. There were four males in it. The car started speeding away on the highway.
She alerted her undercover cops, told them that at exit 11 there were some guys speeding and definitely suspicious. They stopped them and investigated. I think they did a stop and frisk. Six males got out of the car. It was a sedan, you can barely fit six people in it!
We delivered some food to the young woman we'd helped the other night. She was a bit overwhelmed. She doesn't really trust people at this point. She's willing but she's afraid, you can see it in her eyes.
I finished at 5 am. I woke up this morning at 10. My son was screaming because he wants to play. I had to go to work because I work during the day. I'll probably take a day off today or tomorrow, it's all too stressful.
We're more organised than ever, we have three groups. We take specific areas under surveillance, and we disperse. We have a schedule, during the week each team takes a day off so we can handle our daily lives.
As a result of the article, Dima and Isaac reached out to us. They've figured this is going viral. We try to keep it super simple. Why make an elephant out of a fly, as we say in Russian?
We had a meeting with the Bikers from the Bratva Motorcycle Club. They had a little different view on it, but we consolidated into a unified peaceful view. Our group unites three different groups that share the same peaceful view and are still having the same goal, to keep our communities safe. Not enforcing them, not being armed. Being vigilant without being a vigilante.
The protests are down, but strange behaviour is still on, and if that's going to keep continuing, we'll be continuing. If that dies down, we'll probably boil down to two teams.
On June 12th there's a big BLM protest planned on Brighton Beach, in the heart of our community. There are posters all over the place. That day, we're going to be a bit more vigilant. Just be around, nothing crazy, we're not going to protest against anyone.
We know what BLM means. We respect them, we respect black lives and everything. We respect all colours, all genders and all religions, we're very peaceful when it comes to this. That's why we're in the United States: freedom of speech, freedom of choice. When it comes to illegal activities, stupid activities - we're against that.
If they want to do it peacefully, it's ok, we'll shake hands. If not,we'll have to be more vigilant, call the police.