Cable news trucks flanked the block around a lower Manhattan court on Monday, as police and protesters prepared for the historic arraignment of former US President Donald Trump.
The Republican leader had landed at New York’s LaGuardia Airport at about 3:30pm Eastern time (19:30 GMT) on Monday, as he prepared to make his first court appearance the next day.
But already, onlookers had started to gather around the Manhattan Criminal Court.
Tourists mingled with passing New Yorkers. Reporters swarmed the sidewalks. A woman sat on a nearby park bench, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and a red sweatshirt emblazoned with MAGA, the acronym for Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again”.
And though the court was closed for the day, dozens had formed a line at its entrance, hoping to win a spot inside to witness Tuesday’s court proceedings.
Cameras clustered on a sidewalk in lower Manhattan as reporters do live coverage. They’re cordoned off by a low fenced barrier. On the outside, a biker passes through.
Reporters prepare to document Donald Trump’s court appearance as he becomes the first former president to face criminal charges
While the indictment remains sealed, Trump is expected to face criminal charges related to a hush-money payment he allegedly made to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels, just before the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s arraignment on Tuesday is expected to be a carefully choreographed spectacle. The city has ordered 35,000 officers to be in uniform and ready for any security threats.
And the court system is said to be collaborating with the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the US Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to ensure orderly proceedings.
On Monday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams warned any would-be agitators against initiating violence in response to Trump’s arraignment.
“While there may be some rabble-rousers thinking about coming to our city tomorrow, our message is clear and simple: control yourselves,” Adams told reporters. “New York City is our home, not a playground for your misplaced anger.”
Adams specifically touched on the potential for Trump supporters to riot in defence of the former president.
“Although we have no specific threats, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is known to spread misinformation and hate speech, stated she’s coming to town,” Adams said, referencing a far-right Congress member known for her extreme rhetoric.
“If one is caught participating in any act of violence, they will be arrested and held accountable, no matter who you are,” Adams added.
A police officer on a busy sidewalk, speaking to a man dressed as a creepy black-and-white clown. People on the right walk past. There is a blurry close up of a woman in motion.
A police officer engages with a protester dressed as a clown on Monday, ahead of Donald Trump’s arraignment [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]
The NYPD declined to issue a comment when contacted by Al Jazeera about security logistics.
A spokesperson for the US Secret Service likewise declined to go into detail about plans for Trump’s surrender to New York authorities.
But it did issue a statement, saying that “decisions around courtroom access and related procedures are determined by court officials”.
“We are working closely with our law enforcement partners to minimise disruptions to the normal court process, while ensuring our protectees remain secure,” the statement said.
Michael Alcazar, a retired NYPD detective and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he has confidence that local law enforcement will be able to manage any protests.
After all, he pointed out, the local police force has had plenty of experience dealing with high-profile events — from the 9/11 attacks to the regular parade of dignitaries arriving at the United Nations headquarters.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that much of a challenge for us,” Alcazar told Al Jazeera. “We’re used to dealing with large protests. Annually, we deal with New Year’s Eve celebrations. We are a larger police department, so we have enough police officers to deploy.”
He estimated the NYPD could deploy as many as 1,000 officers between Trump Tower, where the ex-president maintains a penthouse residence, and the Manhattan courthouse.
A police officer speaks on the phone in Manhattan traffic. Behind him, US flags hang on slanted poles coming off buildings on either side of the street.
An estimated 35,000 New York City police officers are on standby ahead of Tuesday’s court appearance
A 30-year veteran of the force, Alcazar said the police force likely prepared for Tuesday’s court appearance by revisiting the events of January 6, 2021, when a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in an effort to overturn the 2020 election results.
“I’m sure our executives, the brass, have reviewed what happened on January 6,” Alcazar said
“They probably conferred with the Capitol Police — what they did wrong, how did it fail, how we’re probably going to learn from that. I don’t anticipate us having the same issues there. We’re not going to let people storm the courthouse.”
On Tuesday, the Secret Service is expected to lead a motorcade from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan to the court on the lower end of the island, a journey of roughly 6.5km (4 miles).
Already, on Monday, a handful of NYPD buses were parked across the street from Trump Tower. One beleaguered police officer, stationed across the street, complained he had been keeping watch over the building since 5:00am (9:00 GMT).
“They’re not leaving,” he said under condition of anonymity, referring to the growing crowds. “They’ve been here before us.”
A protester in a Trump mask, with bushy eyebrows, and an orange jumpsuit gives a thumbs-up to the camera.
A protester in a Trump mask and an orange jumpsuit demonstrates in front of Trump Tower on Monday [Dorian Geiger/Al Jazeera]
One protester wearing a Donald Trump mask silently wandered up and down the sidewalk in an orange jumpsuit, giving people a thumbs-up. Another protester raised their middle finger to the skyscraper as they passed.
Further down the street, two activists holding anti-Trump signs faced a screaming man wearing a baseball cap, who complained loudly that former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was a “traitor”.
As the sun set over Manhattan, however, there were no signs of any violent activity or major protester-police confrontations.
Bob Fertik, a 65-year-old blogger and activist at the scene, said he believed Trump was getting preferential treatment.
“If he was a normal criminal they would have locked him up and sent him to Rikers,” said Fertik, referring to New York City’s largest jail. He clutched a sign of Trump in a prison jumpsuit adorned with the message, “Lock him up.”
A busy street in front of Trump Tower
Crowds gathered on the sidewalks in front of Trump Tower on Monday, where the former president is believed to be staying the night
Others nearby expressed ambivalence about the impending court proceedings.
“It’s kind of like a circus in a way,” said Oscar Torrealba, 25, a former Venezuelan immigrant who works at a pizzeria around the corner from Trump Tower. “I don’t know if the presence of Trump here is going to be good or bad. We still are waiting to see what happens in a few days.”
Torrealba, however, credited the frenzied atmosphere for an uptick in business.
“Today was really busy. Regularly, Mondays are a quiet day and today we’re having a lot of orders. A lot of people come in here, a lot of foreigners. I think it’s the presence of Trump. For me, it’s alright,” he shrugged.