The Tompkins Square Park Riot
Date: August 1988
The Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988 began on August 6 and carried over into the wee hours of August 7. The East Village park had been overrun by drug dealers, the homeless, and reckless youth, but the neighborhood could not reach an agreement about what—if anything—could be done. Manhattan Community Board No. 3 decided to adopt a 1 a.m. curfew for the park (it was previously open 24 hours). The trouble officially began with a July 31 curfew protest that resulted in a confrontation between demonstrators and police.
On August 6, a second rally took place, but this time the park became a battlefield. Around 11:30 p.m., protesters entered the park holding signs that read "Gentrification is Class War." Police claim there were as many as 700 people present. By the time the morning came, 38 people—including police and reporters—had been injured. Nine people were arrested, and six cases of police brutality were filed. Though the NYPD claimed that officers did not provoke the incident, several witnesses, including poet and resident Allen Ginsberg, said that they charged the crowd. Captain Gerald McNamara of the 9th Precinct claimed that police only charged the crowd after bottles were thrown at them.
The number of complaints eventually swelled to over 100, and images and video footage of officers beating protesters and other defenseless people with nightsticks made national headlines. New York Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward blamed the precinct for the incident and promptly announced the retirement of Deputy Chief Thomas J. Darcy, who was not present at the scene. The city reviewed the incident and found numerous flaws in the NYPD's actions, including a failure to contact Commissioner Ward or Mayor Koch.