Influencer Charged With Inciting a Riot

New York police say crowd at promised giveaway went from 300 to thousands in minutes
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2023 5:30 PM CDT
Twitch Streamer Charged in Giveaway Turned Riot
In this image taken from video provided by WABC-TV, internet influencer Kai Cenat, center left, places his hands on his face as he is helped into a New York Police vehicle near Union Square on Friday.   (WABC-TV via AP)

A social media influencer has been charged with inciting a riot after a crowd drawn by his promise of free electronics turned violent in New York City's Union Square, resulting in dozens of arrests and injuries. Kai Cenat was taken out of the park by police, arrested, and charged with counts including unlawful assembly. Conviction on all charges could bring a sentence of up to five years in prison, the Washington Post reports. Police said that the gathering was spontaneous and that Cenat had not obtained a city permit for the Friday afternoon event.

Cenat had announced during a livestream Wednesday on Twitch that he would host a "huge giveaway" at the park, per CNN. The freebies would include computers, Play Station 5s, microphones, keyboards, webcams, gaming chairs, headphones, and gift cards, he said. "I feel like New York really deserves it," Cenat told his audience. People began arriving at Union Square around 3pm Friday. "We went from 300 kids to a couple of thousands of kids in minutes," Police Chief Jeffrey Maddrey said. The crowd spilled out of the park, blocking cars and pedestrians. A market closed early, and subway trains started to bypass the Union Square station. By 4pm, police had instituted a Level 4 mobilization, the highest response category, per the New York Times.

While streaming part of the event, apparently from inside a truck, Cenat announced: "It's everybody for themselves. It's a war out there." Police reported 65 arrests, 30 of juveniles. People in the crowd and police officers were injured, and stores, food carts, and police vehicles were damaged. The chaos was over by 6pm. On Saturday, Mayor Eric Adams praised the successful effort to diffuse the situation without any loss of life, per the AP. Adams called it "a parenting issue," not a policing issue. "Our children cannot be raised by social media," he said. (More New York City stories.)

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