Twitch streamer charged with inciting a riot after giveaway draws huge crowds to Union Square in New York City
Aug 4, 2023, 8:16 PM | Updated: 8:17 pm
(CNN) — Social media influencer Kai Cenat has been charged with inciting a riot and unlawful assembly after thousands-strong crowds gathered in Union Square in New York City for a giveaway, leaving dozens of people arrested and several police officers injured.
Cenat, who has over 4 million followers on YouTube, over 5 million on Instagram, and 6.5 million on Twitch, said during a Wednesday Twitch stream that he would be hosting a “huge giveaway” Friday at 4 p.m. in Union Square Park.
In the stream, he said they would be giving away computers, Play Station 5s, microphones, keyboards, webcams, gaming chairs, headphones and giftcards from a truck in Union Square. “I feel like New York really deserves it,” he said.
Thousands of people began gathering at the park around 3 p.m., NYPD chief Jeffrey Maddrey said at a Friday news conference. “Soon the park and the surrounding streets were overrun with people, obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” he said.
The crowds spurred the NYPD to activate a “Level 4” response, its highest level of disaster response. The department earlier announced that they had activated a “Level 2” response to handle the crowds and clear the area.
Maddrey said that as the crowd grew, “individuals in the park began to commit acts of violence towards the police and the public.” He said that some attendees took items from a nearby construction site.
“You had people walking around with shovels, axes, and other tools from the construction,” he said. “Individuals were also lighting fireworks, throwing them towards the police, they were throwing them towards each other.”
Cenat was removed by police for “safety reasons,” according to Maddrey. He said the Twitch streamer had not alerted the police to the gathering or obtained a permit, and it was declared an unlawful assembly.
Several police officers were injured in the frenzy and “quite a few” people were arrested as police worked to clear the crowd, Maddrey said. He gestured at dirt on his own uniform, saying, “I was in the middle of the crowd, I was hit with multiple objects.”
Police arrested 65 people, including 30 juveniles, Maddrey said at a Friday night news conference. He noted that he saw young people injured in the crowd as well as police officers.
Cenat has been charged with two counts of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, among other charges, the chief said.
CNN has reached out to Cenat’s representatives for comment.
“We’re not against young people having a good time, we’re not against young people gathering,” he said. “But it can’t be to this level where it’s dangerous. A lot of people got hurt today.”
He said that while the crowd had dispersed from the park, police were still monitoring “crowds mulling around Manhattan.”
Cenat said during his Wednesday stream that attendees would be able to win prizes by correctly answering “random questions” related to YouTube and streaming. “If you get it right, boom, you get a PS5, just like that,” he said.
Cenat streamed live on Twitch on Friday for some portion of the event, posting video from the crowd. In one video seemingly posted from inside a truck, he described the chaotic gathering, saying, “It’s everybody for themselves. It’s a war out there.” He also described the heavy police presence.
Friday afternoon, the influencer posted a picture to his Instagram story showing news coverage of the crowds along with the message, “I love you guys to the fullest you guys are amazing.”
“Stay safe,” he added.
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