In a festive yet eventful evening at Rockefeller Center, the iconic Christmas tree lighting ceremony proceeded smoothly, attracting thousands despite a pro-Palestinian protest that led to several arrests. The 80-foot-tall Norway spruce illuminated Midtown Manhattan in a joyous celebration, but not without a bit of drama.
Before the tree’s dazzling lights took center stage, approximately 500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered outside the News Corp building at 47th Street and Sixth Avenue. Their peaceful rally took a turn when the crowd attempted to advance toward the tree, met with a firm police line and barricades. The chaos resulted in scuffles and seven arrests, including six adults and one juvenile.
Tasfia Islam, a 30-year-old from Queens, faced the most severe charges felony criminal mischief for knocking a cell phone out of someone’s hand. Five others were charged with obstructing governmental administration and having interfered with police operations. These individuals were issued desk appearance tickets for future court appearances. Additionally, a 15-year-old boy received a juvenile report and was released to a guardian.
Despite these disturbances, the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony continued, symbolizing the start of the holiday season for those gathered in Midtown. However, the New York Police Department (NYPD) had prepared for potential security threats, citing a heightened risk environment due to ongoing conflicts like the Israel-Hamas dispute. An NYPD threat assessment obtained by ABC News emphasized the potential targeting of mass gatherings and high-profile events during the holiday season.
NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell reassured the public: “We allow people to exercise their first amendment, but by no means do we allow anyone to come out here to do hate, crime or assault.” The NYPD’s commitment to balancing security and free expression underscored the importance of maintaining order during such events.
To facilitate the holiday celebrations, street closures around Rockefeller Center were implemented, restricting car access between 11 a.m. and 12 a.m. Pedestrians gained exclusive access to cross streets on East 51st and 48th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, providing a pedestrian-friendly environment for viewing the tree and enjoying other festive attractions. These street closures remained in effect through New Year’s Day.
Moreover, on the first three Sundays in December, Fifth Avenue welcomed pedestrians between 48th and 59th Streets, creating a car-free zone for visitors to revel in the holiday spirit.
Amidst the arrests and security measures, the Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony stood as a beacon of joy, overcoming challenges to bring holiday cheer to the heart of New York City.