EXCLUSIVE: No Muslim ban, part one – Standoff at JFK

NationofChange joins protesters numbered in the thousands Saturday night at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.


View from JFK’s Terminal 4 parking lot – even past 9pm protesters stayed out in the cold awaiting news on the remaining detainees. Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Over the weekend, protests and marches were quickly organized across the country and Americans took to the nation’s airports and streets. They were formed to object to President Trump’s Executive Order which stopped citizens of seven Middle Eastern nations from entering the U.S.

Police blocking protesters and people waiting for incoming passengers from entering the terminal, ticketed passengers were allowed in. Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Saturday night, at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport protesters numbered in the thousands. I arrived on the scene at 9pm and both entrances of Terminal 4 were already blocked by police and protesters. The anti-Trump protesters were chanting “refugees are welcome here – no hate no fear.”

They were also chanting some other slogans about Trump that I won’t transcribe here. Needlessly to say, I agreed.

Port Authority Police and protesters face off, unlike actions in DC the previous weekend there were no real incidents on either side. Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Even with some tense standoffs between Port Authority Police, there were no arrests that this reporter viewed or could confirm at the time of publication. The Port Authority police, who have control over NY’s airports, clearly had no idea what to do with the protesters and many of the officers had ancient riot gear. Since the New Yorkers that arrived at the terminal seemed to be ok with standing and chanting, the agreement was mutual and the police decided to just wait them out behind metal gates.

JFK passengers watch the protest unfold from inside the terminal, awaiting their ride home, this family later joined the protest. Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

Eventually the police opened the doors to anyone with a metrocard and I was allowed to enter with my cameraman. Once inside we met up with a lawyer who was waiting for a green card holder, he was communicating through her lawyer to her via texts – it was a complicated procedure but eventually, after 30mins of waiting, she was released. The woman, who asked not to be on camera or interviewed was a young Syrian refugee. She had been held with little contact to the outside for 11 hours. Like many of the other immigrants that were detained, she had already gone through the rigorous vetting process for the last two years to enter the country legally.

Either way, she was just happy to be in America. I gave her my apologies on behalf of my country, my good wishes and said goodbye. If she was the great threat that President Trump talked about when speaking on Syrian refugees – then I believe we’ll be ok. I was detained once by the NYPD for 11 hours and I can tell you I was not smiling like she was once I got out.

Passengers depart Terminal 4 through crowds of protesters, one playing his guitar for them, and proclaiming ‘Welcome to New York!” Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange

With many of the detained released the protest still went on deeper into the night. At some point in the evening a follow up protest was declared for the following day at Battery Park in Manhattan.

By the time NationofChange’s crew got back to Brooklyn there were already thousands committed to attending on Facebook – but as anyone who has ever organized an event on Facebook knows, this does not always translate into actual attendance.

Protesters blocking Terminal 4’s entry roads, occasionally using the ‘People’s Mic’ to give updates on the detainees inside. Photo Credit: Zach D. Roberts/NationofChange


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Zach D. Roberts is a photo/video journalist for NationofChange.org. His photojournalism has been featured in Time Magazine's Top 100 Photos of the Year, People Magazine's Photos of the Year and was awarded at FotoDC. Zach is co-produced Greg Palast's full length documentary, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. He is currently working on a book about the #resistance of 2017.