Tompkins Square Park Police Riot 30th Anniversary Special
Thirty years ago, a singular event occurred in Manhattan’s East Village that would prove transformative to many lives for years to come. Today on Law and Disorder we bring you a special program on the August 1988 Tompkins Square Park Police Riot as recounted by several individuals who were there for the entire event. We share firsthand observations of unbridled police violence, talk about how we came to be there, and discuss how the riot marked the linchpin to transform an entire neighborhood from a mecca of creativity and political activism, to the new home of TARGET, Starbucks and other hallmarks of American gentrification.
Tompkins Square Park is bounded on the West and East by Avenues A and B, and on the North and South by 10th Street and 7th Streets. It falls in the part of that neighborhood often referred to as Alphabet City, named for its 4 Alphabet numbered avenues, that in the 1960’s and 1970’s were a haven for drug sellers and squatters and a large Puerto Rican community. The park had a history of activism as it was the site of a riot in 1874 on behalf of the city’s labor movement.
In 1988, a homeless encampment was erected in the park, attracting a wide range of activists, squatters, and homeless persons. Several local residents complained and in a controversial move, the local governing body, Community Board 3, on June 28, approved a 1 AM curfew from what had long been a 24-hour open park. The Avenue A Block Association supported the curfew as it represented the few local businesses that existed then. Many residents opposed the curfew, including those who would have to take a longer walk around the park to get home.
The New York City City Parks Department agreed to enforce the curfew, and on July 31, 1998 protesters gathered at a rally there. Police, responding to alleged noise complaints, entered the park. A skirmish ensued, and several civilians and six officers were treated for injuries. Four men were arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and inciting to riot.
Guests – Susan Howard, East Village Community Activist; John McBride, Photographer; and Arthur Nersesian, East Village Writer.