By Bobby Caina Calvan
Social media influencer Kai Cenat is facing charges of inciting a riot and promoting an unlawful gathering in New York City, after the online streamer drew thousands of his followers, many of them teenagers, with promises of giving away electronics, including a new PlayStation.
The event produced chaos, with dozens of people arrested — some jumping atop vehicles, hurling bottles and throwing punches.
Cenat was released early Saturday from police custody after being issued a desk appearance ticket, which police issue to require a suspect to appear in court to answer charges. A police spokesperson said he is to appear in court on Aug. 18.
The mayhem in New York City's Union Square Friday afternoon put further focus on the hold social media influencers have on the people who follow and fawn over them.
“Our children cannot be raised by social media," Mayor Eric Adams said Saturday during a press briefing on an unrelated crime.
Police said they arrested 65 people, including 30 juveniles. Several people were injured, including some with bloodied faces. At least four people were taken away in ambulances.
“I don’t think people realize the level of discipline that we showed to take a very dangerous, volatile situation and to be able to bring it to a level of resolve without any loss of life or any substantial damage to property and without young people harming themselves," Adams said.
Cenat, 21, is a video creator with 6.5 million followers on the platform Twitch, where he regularly livestreams. He also boasts 4 million subscribers on YouTube, where he posts daily life and comedy vlogs ranging from “Fake Hibachi Chef Prank!” to his most recent video, “I Rented Us Girlfriends In Japan!”
His 299 YouTube videos have amassed more than 276 million views among them. In December, he was crowned streamer of the year at the 12th annual Streamy Awards.
Media representatives for AMP, which represents Cenat and a small group of other influencers, said in an email Saturday that the Union Square event was intended to show appreciation to fans.
“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,” AMP said.
“We recognize that our audience and influence is growing, and with that comes greater responsibility,” the statement continued. “We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone behavior.”
In its apology, the company said it was cooperating with authorities.
Livestreaming on Twitch from a vehicle as the event gathered steam, Cenat displayed gift cards he planned to give away. Noting the crowd and police presence, he urged, “Everybody who’s out there, make sure y’all safe. ... We’re not gonna do nothin’ until it’s safe.”
Eventually he and an entourage got out of the vehicle and hustled through a crowd, crossed a street and went into the park, where Cenat was surrounded by a cheering, shoving mob.
Chief Jeffrey Maddrey of the New York Police Department said Cenat at some point in the afternoon was removed “for his safety” and police were in contact with him. Videos posted on social media and taken from news helicopters showed Cenat being lifted over a fence and out of the crowd and then placed in a police vehicle.
Aerial TV news footage showed a surging, tightly packed crowd running through the streets, scaling structures in the park and snarling traffic. Shouting teenagers swung objects at car windows, threw paint cans and set off fire extinguishers. Some people climbed on a moving vehicle, falling off as it sped away. Others pounded on or climbed atop city buses.
Skylark Jones, 19, likened the scene to “a movie," as he said police arrived with riot gear and began “charging at people.”
Jones arrived with a friend hoping to get a chance at getting one of the giveaways. When they arrived, the scene was already packed and things became unruly even before Cenat appeared, he said.
Maddrey said three officers were hurt.
“We have encountered things like this before but never to this level of dangerousness,” Maddrey said.
“Listen, 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.”