National News Desk

Influencer charged after chaos erupts in New York City’s Union Square

Brawl in gift distribution of the social media phenomenon in New York
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Influencer and Twitch streamer Kai Cenat was charged with at least two counts of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly after thousands of people descended on Union Square in New York City Friday afternoon, police said.

Cenat was issued a desk appearance ticket for the charges, which include a felony charge of riot in the first degree causing public injury or damage. He was released from custody early Saturday morning.

The crowd was apparently responding to Cenat’s promise of free PlayStations, sparking a chaotic scene and a massive police response.

The NYPD made 65 arrests and 30 of those arrested were juveniles, Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said in a Friday evening briefing.

The event was “unpermitted” and “not sanctioned” and grew rapidly to thousands of young people, who Maddrey said attacked officers instead of complying with orders to leave. The chief implored parents to step in.

“I had thousands of kids out there, I needed thousands of parents,” Maddrey said. “When it gets to the point where it’s disorderly, we want the parents to come and take control.”

Maddrey said a 17-year-old was hospitalized from what was initially believed to be a gunshot wound, but it ended up being a firework injury.

NYPD officers arrived in droves to try to quell the mayhem, which erupted after a post by Cenat went viral around 3 p.m., and the officers soon found themselves under attack, according to Maddrey.

“We were crushed, we were pushed,” Maddrey said.

The massive crowd caused the park and surrounding streets to become overcrowded. People ran through the streets and some were seen jumping on cars and a city bus. Some people took objects from a construction site in Union Square, including plywood, shovels and axes, according to Maddrey.

Police showed up in riot gear to disperse the crowd. A bus that was holding people in custody was attacked by others trying to pull individuals off the bus, according to Maddrey.

Fireworks set off in the crowd resulted in smoke and noise but police said they did not use any flash-bang devices and no shots were fired.

Maddrey called the gathering an “unlawful assembly” and “uncontrolled.”

“We’re not against young people having a good time, we’re not against young people gathering, but it can’t be to this level where it’s dangerous,” he said during a press briefing. “A lot of people got hurt today.”

Some officers sustained injuries in the incident, Maddrey said, adding that he personally was hit with “multiple objects.”

Six people were transported to area hospitals in connection with the incident, according to the FDNY.

The influencer’s intention had been to “create a positive experience” for fans, but “we’ve never experienced anything at the scale of what took place yesterday,” Cenat’s AMP group said in a written statement issued Saturday.

“We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone that behavior,” the statement said. “We apologize to all of those impacted. We are fully cooperating with local authorities.”

NYPD has recovered evidence from social media that Cenat was out of his vehicle and interacting with the large crowd before he left Union Square, sources said.

Cenat, 21, posted in an Instagram story, “Please be safe,” while sharing news coverage of the incident.

“I love you guys to the fullest you guys are amazing,” he said.

A woman shopping in the area with her baby took shelter in an ATM lobby during the mayhem.

“Everything was just bombarded with people,” she told ABC New York station WABC.

“It was just hectic. The only thing I could think about was to keep my daughter safe,” she said.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams thanked police “for their quick work” in controlling the situation.

“I want our streets to be alive and full of joy. But they must be safe,” he said on social media. “That’s the most important thing.”

An NYPD official said they do believe there were a handful of PlayStation 5s that Cenat intended to distribute and the event would likely have turned out differently had he notified the department ahead of time

ABC News’ Mark Crudele, Josh Hoyos, Matt J. Foster and Reena Roy contributed to this report.

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