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Tompkins Square Park Police Riot of 1988 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Chris Flash   
What Happened One Hot Summer Night in 1988
Eric Drooker Riot Cops Flaming Fist
On the evening of July 30, 1988, a group of people in Tompkins Square Park were violently rousted by club wielding cops, claiming that they were enforcing a midnight park curfew. This curfew, not declared by any city agency, was phony and illegal. Some people resisted and this got cops very angry.

Over the next seven days, neighbors watched as the NYPD built up a para-military presence in and around the park, complete with maneuvers on horse back and displays of crowd control techniques with phalanxes of riot cops advancing in special formations.
On August 6, 1988, a sweltering hot and stifingly humid night, anti-Tompkins Square Park curfew demonstrators were set upon by riot cops at the stroke of midnight, as the police attempted to clear the park and enforce the curfew. The police pushed people out of the park and into the streets, beating people indiscriminately with nightsticks, as police on horseback charged the crowd, injuring numerous innocent bystanders, some seriously. All the while a police helicopter hovered just above the rooftops on Avenue A, blowing up a blinding dust and attracting more and more residents who came out to see what was going on. Out of control police charged into the crowd repeatedly, kicking, beating, crashing peoples' heads with clubs, drawing blood and sending many to the hospital with concussions and broken bones. Outrage over the police violence increased as hundreds of cops from all over the city descended on the neighborhood, randomly chasing and beating area residents and anyone in their sights. In the midst of the mayhem the commanding officer left the scene "to take a personal" at the station house a mile away, leaving the rank and file cops to terrorize and brutalize the neighborhood -- unconstrained and unaccountable, in the absence of any mainstream TV news cameras. Little did they realize that two neighborhood videographers, one whom was beaten by police as his camera rolled, would come back to haunt them with footage of the night's unconstrained police violence. The police attacks lasted all night as people resisted their assaults.

By 6:00 the following morning, the cops withdrew, satisfied that they had successfully enforced the illegal park curfew until 6am as they had been ordered to. In reality, the only thing they had succeeded in doing was to unite our neighborhood like never before!! Over 120 people were hospitalized with injuries inflicted by gratuitous police beatings. The evening news was ablaze with the home video footage that showed the extent of the police wilding in the streets, and clips that exposed dozens of police attempting to conceal their identities by covering up their badges with black bands and in some cases removing their shields altogether. One videographer, Clayton Patterson, captured literally hours and hours of the attacks on video that was ultimately used as evidence to bring charges against the police, and in civil lawsuits brought against the City by those who suffered injuries at the hands of unruly police. The shot that broke the story to the mainstream media and topped the week's TV coverage of the riot replayed the point of view of artist and videomaker Paul Garrin's camera as several police officers ganged up on him and beat him to the ground in an attempt to destroy his camera and stop him from videotaping their crimes. While the video footage contradicted the official story of the night's events it also ignited public outrage over the police brutality. In the nights to follow large protests and demonstrations formed as hundreds of neighborhood residents took to the streets in a show of solidarity and in opposition to the curfew. The police showed up by the busload in force and in full riot gear and on their best behavior -- in light of the media riot -- where hoardes of mainstream TV crews were determined not to miss this time. Then Mayor Ed Koch relented and the attempted curfew was rescinded, leaving the park open 24 hours a day as it had been for a century before.
A week after the riot a concert and rally was held in the Tompkins Square Park bandshell (demolished in 1991) where many local bands, poets, performers, and speakers celebrated the park as free public space where people gather to express themselves, and demonstrate politically.

Every year since the riot, we have held events, concerts and demonstrations to commemorate what happened on that hot summer night in 1988, so that people do not forget and so young people can learn the history of our struggle to exist in the face of gentrification and corporatization of our city, and to celebrate the creative energy and talents that once and again thrive here.

By Chris Flash, Editor, The SHADOW, http://shadowpress.org


 
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