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Twitch streamer charged with inciting a riot after giveaway draws huge crowds to Union Square in New York City

By Zoe Sottile and Mark Morales, CNN

(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.

People began gathering at the park around 3 p.m., NYPD chief Jeffrey Maddrey said at one of two Friday news conferences. “Soon the park and the surrounding streets were overrun with people, obstructing vehicular and pedestrian traffic,” he said.

“We went from 300 kids to a couple of thousands of kids in minutes,” he said at the second briefing.

The crowds spurred the NYPD to activate a “Level 4” response, its highest level of disaster response.

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.

Representatives for Cenat, AMP Group, say they “are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct” that occurred Friday.

“Members of AMP hoped to create a positive experience for fans and give back as a show of appreciation for their support,” a statement from AMP media obtained by CNN reads. “We’ve hosted fan meet ups and video shoots in the past, but we’ve never experienced anything at the scale of what took place yesterday.”

During a Saturday news conference, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he believes “outside influencers” may have “attempted to aggravate the situation.”

“You don’t come to get free GameBoys and bring smoke bombs and bring M-80s,” Adams said. The mayor said the gathering, which “could have turned really ugly,” is not a policing issue. “This is a parenting issue,” he said.

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.”

Some parents came out to the park in search of their children, but Maddrey said he wished more parents would have come to help break up the disorderly crowds.

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.

“We’re not against young people having a good time, we’re not against young people gathering,” Maddrey 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.

Influencers need to communicate with law enforcement before an event so they can set up barriers and bring extra officers, Maddrey said.

“We recognize that our audience and influence are growing, and with that comes greater responsibility,” AMP, the Los Angeles based company that represents a group of influencers, said.

AMP did not name Cenat in the statement but said that they are “fully cooperating with local authorities” and acknowledged Friday’s events, saying they don’t condone the behavior of fans that attended the planned event.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Mallika Kallingal, Celina Tebor, Nic F. Anderson, Artemis Moshtagian, Zenebou Sylla and Laura Ly contributed to this report.

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