The 70s, 80s, & 90s
TABLE OF CONTENTS
GENTRIFICATION AND RESIDENTIAL CONFLICTS .................................................................... 2 THE 1988 TOMPKINS SQUARE RIOTS ........................................................................................ 7 THE HOMELESS PEOPLE OF TOMPKINS .................................................................................. 19 THE SQUATTERS .................................................................................................................... 24 THE ANARCHISTS .................................................................................................................. 29
GENTRIFICATION AND RESIDENTIAL CONFLICTS
From: Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki. July 1989. Homeless people and their supporters protest for affordable housing on Avenue A. Although the community’s anti-gentrification movement had begun before 1988 with a small collection of squatters and anarchists, the August 6 riot triggered what became the larger Tompkins Square Park movement, a grassroots resistance that
demanded affordable housing. The park became the symbol of this movement, whose impact extended beyond the neighborhood and into the rest of New York, the rest of the U.S., and even some parts of Europe, notably Berlin. Gentrification in the surrounding Tompkins area, in the East Village, and the LES all together, included internal and external conflicts. The main perpetrator to gentrification victims were the state representatives and city officials. They backed private landowners in hopes for a “cleaner and
better city”. The city’s funds were only put into select areas and they did, in fact, pay for the demolishment of abandoned buildings to make room for new construction. The city fought against its poorer residents and those who identified themselves as apart of various subcultures such as anarchists, squatters and punks to make way for middle class ‘Yuppies’. The homeless suffered the most as they, unlike other groups, did not have a choice of whether or not they wanted to participate in the infamous grime and grit of the LES. Recurring subjects of dispute include the ownership, occupancy and use of private and public space, the control of individual (and animal) behavior, and the role of regulatory authorities like the police and parks departments.
Police Called to Meeting on Tompkins
Published: October 25, 1989
The New York Times
The police were called last night to a raucous meeting of Community Board 3 on the Lower East Side, in which the board rejected a proposal to establish a curfew in Tompkins Square Park, the scene of clashes a year ago between the police and homeless people.
The meeting was attended by scores of people who opposed the 1 A.M.-to-6 A.M. curfew, which was proposed by a committee of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, and who supported the rights of homeless people to use the park. They engaged in an angry shouting match with a handful of neighborhood residents who supported the proposed curfew. A
dozen police officers dressed in riot gear stepped between board leaders and the opposing groups to insure the safety of the 300 people attending the meeting at the Alfred E. Smith Parks and Recreation Building, at 80 Catherine Street in the East Village. There were no arrests, the police said.
The board members voted 15 to 7 to recommend that the park remain open around the clock. Six board members abstained and 23 were absent.
The parks department has the power to impose the curfew without the consent of the community board. After the vote, Parks Commissioner Henry J, Stern said that officials had not decided what action to take. ''I believe it shows that
the community is divided,'' Mr. Stern said. ''We will have to inquire further within the community to see what
should be done.
In the 1980s, Tompkins Square was packed with the pitched tents of a sprawling Tent City for the homeless.
RESIDENTS VS. GENTRIFICATION
“Residents claims in conflicts often have a strong moral flavor... Tompkins Square’s history reflects many themes of American urban social history.”
- Diana R. Gordon
From Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki. January 1, 1994.
The inauguration of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, another sharp turning
point toward gentrification in New York. Although the anti-gentrification-movement still remained for several years, it lost its strong grassroots momentum, especially after Rudy Giuliani took the mayoral office. Twenty years after the August 6 riot, the park now boasts one of the best dog runs in New York City; the Lower East Side has
lost much of its diversity and become one of the city's most expensive, theme park-like entertainment districts.
From Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki.
June 3, 1991. The NYPD prepares to confront protesters on Avenue B. The August 6 police riot—so called because the consensus was that the police overreacted to the protestors—and subsequent Tompkins Square riots were the manifestation of a larger concern of the overgentrification of the Lower East Side.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF CONFLICT THAT AROSE IN TOMPKINS AND THE LES WERE:
RESIDENT VS. RESIDENT ON THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL, RESIDENT VS. RESIDENT ON THE GROUP LEVEL, RESIDENT VS. REPRESENTATIVE OF THE STATE, RESIDENT VS. NONRESIDENT LANDOWNER OR LANDLORD
The Shape Of Its Future Splits East Village
By STEPHEN DALY Published: March 20, 1983
ST. MARKS PLACE, once a focal point for the hippie movement, is but three blocks long— from Third Avenue to Tompkins Square Park. Yet the street reflects the many differences - some subtle, some glaring - within the community it bisects, the area commonly known as the East Village.
Moving east, past funky-chic hair salons, boutiques and cafes, the street runs past rows of bleak, graffiti-smeared tenements near Avenue A. In the short stroll, a visitor can view a cross-section of the neighborhood's varied population - middle-aged hippies, merchants, green-haired punks, working men and women, students, immigrants, artists and the homeless. ''It's a totally diverse neighborhood,'' said Richard F. Ropiak, chairman of Community Board 3, which includes the East Village, bounded roughly by 14th and Houston Streets and Fourth Avenue and Avenue A. Mr. Ropiak and others who have lived in the area for a long time believe it is precisely this diverse social mix that gives the East Village its character.
In recent years, however, many residents have begun to fear that developers who upgrade housing may change the mix by forcing rents up to unaffordable levels. ''There's a sense that an effort is under way by the real-estate community to develop the area for middle- and high-income people and displace the working-class immigrant population who have been in the neighborhood for many years,'' said the Rev. David Garcia, the rector of St. Mark's-in-the-Bowery Episcopal Church, at Second Avenue and 10th Street.
While a pint of fresh strawberries can still be purchased for 99 cents and a meal in several of the restaurants for under $5, prices are going up.
''It's not as cheap as it used to be,'' said Rita H. Udell, a planner with the City Planning Commission who works with Community Board 3. Mrs. Udell said there was a lot of commercial revitalization along Second Avenue and that there had been some conversions from nonresidential to residential usage. ''Everybody's saying that more middle-class people are moving into the area,'' she said. ''The impression is that new money is coming in. I'm sure the rents are going up.''
Since 1969, when Mayor John V. Lindsay's administration sought unsuccessfully to rezone part of Third Avenue for high-rise luxury apartment buildings, three attempts to change zoning in the East Village have been blocked. These
were proposals to gain variances for what are now three parking lots on the east side of Third Avenue between Ninth and 12th Streets, and build high-rise apartments of higher density than the surrounding housing; the most recent of these attempts failed last year. According to Ray Spillenger, treasurer of the Third Avenue Tenants, Artists and Businessmen's Association, the proposals were voted down because ''any upzoning would doom the rest of the area and low-rise property values would zoom.''
Even without the high-rises, property values continue to soar. A nine-story, 69-unit apartment building at 232-238 East 12th Street, which sold for $937,500 in February 1980, was resold last January for $3,719,047. A 16-unit, six-story walk-up at 318 East 11th Street that went for $35,000 in October 1975 was sold in January for $285,000. With a $40,000 rent roll, the building is losing money, according to the new owner, James D. Kinsey. But once the two storefronts on the first floor are renovated and leased, he said, the rents should be able to carry the building.
''I don't shoot for $1,000-a-month rents and quick deals,'' he said. ''I'm looking for long-term capital gains.'' Mr. Kinsey, who also owns a building at 320 East 11th Street, has worked in the East Village for the last 12 years, first in building management. He feels that the neighborhood has come a long way, but that it is not about to be swallowed by interloping, profit-hungry developers.
''THERE are operators,'' Mr. Kinsey said, referring to short-term investors in the community who harass tenants and ''flip'' buildings for quick profits. ''In some instances, they're going to make the bucks. But I don't think they're going to get very far. In the East Village, everybody knows everybody, and they're not going to let themselves be mistreated.''
Nevertheless, the economic shifts are causing sharp divisions. Some residents see the changes as positive, others have mixed feelings and still others feel that developers and landlords are tearing the neighborhood's social fabric apart. And there are those residents who refuse to acknowledge that an East Village even exists and continue to refer to the area as part of the Lower East Side.
''The 'East Village' is an invention of the real-estate people who want to make it trendy, a chic part of town where young singles can make the scene,'' said Valerio Orselli, the director of Cooper Square Community Committee, a 24-year-old tenant organization founded to fight a slum-clearance proposal of the late Robert Moses. ''Apartments in old-law tenements are going for $450 to $600,'' he said. ''Five years ago, they went for $100. ''People come in with a project, do some cosmetics, quadruple the rent and soon you have a new SoHo, with the sterility of the suburbs. Our area suffered too much from that in the 70's. We want the neighborhood to grow from within. We don't want people from the outside coming in to make a quick buck and leave.'
THE 1988 TOMPKINS SQUARE RIOTS
By MICHAEL WINES Published: August 10, 1988 New York Times
To hear veterans of the Sunday melee in Tompkins Square Park tell it, the New York City police who swept down the park's trendy Avenue A border felled columns of protesters like so many trees. But they missed the roots of the protest altogether.
Those roots, demonstrators say, are nearer the unfashionable Avenue B side of Tompkins Square, in a small and shadowy community of urban homesteaders, ecologists, fringe rock bands and revolutionary priests whose lives revolve around political action.
They are an unconventional lot, wearing nicknames like Jerry the Peddler and John the Squatter. Some are survivors of the 1960's anti-war protests; others are dropouts from 1980's materialism.
There, amid the bombed-out buildings and garbage-strewn lots of the barrio they call Loisada, they decided that a city plan to impose a 1 A.M. curfew on Tompkins Square merited another in an endless series of often-ignored protests.
To their evident surprise, they reaped a whirlwind.
''The idea was to bring people peacefully to the park,'' said Frank Morales, a 38-year-old former Episcopal priest who helps run a once-vacant building now occupied by a group of squatters. ''But you have this long history of pent-up anger that set it off.''
''Frank and I were discussing what to do with the park,'' added Kenny Tolia, 22, another squatter on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, ''but what happened was totally unplanned.'' In interviews, Mr. Tolias, Mr. Morales and others said they helped lend impetus to two Tompkins Square protests, on July 31 and last Sunday, which turned violent after squads of police appeared on the scene. The clashes injured scores of people and Sunday's melee led to nine arrests and 52 complaints of police brutality thus far to the Civilian Complaint Review Board.
They expressed surprise and confusion at the police reaction to the demonstrations, and said they neither advocated violence nor sanctioned a leaflet last week that threatened violence against backers of the curfew.
At the same time, they argued, such a confrontation was inevitable, now or later, because of what they say is a class war between the richer, backed by the police, and poorer residents of Loisada and similar areas.
That belief was symbolized during Sunday's protest by a flurry of bottle-throwing at a 16-story condominium near Tompkins Square, Christadora House, which contains apartments selling for up to $1 million. At 6 A.M., at the tail end of the demonstration, several protesters rammed a police barricade through its brass and glass front doors.
Many neighborhood residents not involved in Sunday's protest have charged that the police imposed the curfew at the behest of real-estate developers, so that the neighborhood would appear more desirable to professionals moving into the area. There is no known evidence to document that.
''What happened Saturday was a situation where you had police who have monopolized violence,'' Mr. Morales said, ''and people who are fed up with being violated and want to fight back.''
Frustration with a daily life of poverty and oppression help explain why someone - who, they say, they do not know - began tossing beer bottles at the police during each of the two protests, starting violent street battles.
Mr. Morales and his associates believe in this oppression with a passion altogether foreign to the vast, comfortable enclaves beyond the Avenue B border of Loisada. It transcends their political philosophies, which vary from eco-anarchism to
communism to milder forms of socialism.
And it is reinforced by the conviction, equally foreign to outsiders, that the plight of the homeless and the poor and the tragedy of AIDS are part of a Federal conspiracy to depopulate the cities for repopulation by the wealthy. Mr. Morales, Jerry the Peddler and others have had their share of run-ins with the forces of authority. Jerry and a second squatter, called John the Communist, were among four people arrested at the July 31 disturbance at Tompkins Square. Jerry the Peddler boasted yesterday of a long list of arrests, many of them under aliases, at demonstrations throughout the city.
The decision to help organize protests at Tompkins Square, they said, was rooted in a long series of legal and political battles with the police.
Foremost is their devotion to the squatters movement, a little-noticed effort by organizers to occupy and renovate city-owned buildings in Loisada -a word whose origins are obscure, but which some say is a sort of Spanish pun on ''Lower East Side.'' #20 Squatters Buildings Despite police actions against the squatters, including one eviction that triggered a month-long protest at a building at 537 E. Fifth Street, the movement has mushroomed to include at least 20 buildings in Loisada and nearby areas.
Some are community centers. Their occupants include formerly homeless people, some elderly and some runaways, squatters said.
The squatters and their friends also helped lead a bitter but losing battle in September 1985 to preserve a Lower East Side plot of land, dubbed the Garden of Eden by its creator, Adam Purple, which was marked for development by the City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
''The Garden of Eden fight brought us all together under one big banner,'' Jerry the Peddler, a slim, sunburned man with a long, reddish beard, said yesterday. ''It made us all realize what we had in common.''
Jerry, Mr. Tolia and others are now battling the city and private developers over a plan to build housing for the elderly on a vacant lot, which they call La Plaza Cultural, which they have converted to a park. The park, at East Ninth Street and Avenue C, is in the center of a squatters' neighborhood.
It was at La Plaza Cultural, some associates of the men say, that plans for Sunday's demonstration at Tompkins Square were first discussed seriously last week.
Mr. Tolia, Mr. Morales and others say their involvement in providing impetus for the protest went little beyond
printing leaflets and spreading the word of a rally among friends. Indeed, they described themselves as the moderates in a network of more radical advocates of protest.
Members of that network vary from the Rainbow Gathering, a group of ecologists, to the Proletariat Warriors, a revolutionary communist organization, to rock bands with political agendas such as Missing Foundation.
Missing Foundation, whose slogan is ''the party's over,'' believes that industrial society is at the brink of irreversible collapse. The group has about 20 political followers, one squatter said, and one of its members was arrested at the July 31 protest in Tompkins Square.
Mr. Tolia and Dana Beal, a member of the Youth International Party, or Yippies, both said that organizers of the Sunday protest planned originally to march peacefully west from Tompkins Square on St. Marks Place.
During the protest, however, some in the crowd of 80 to 100 demonstrators urged the crowd to turn back into the intersection of Avenue A and St. Marks Place, where they blocked traffic.
It was there that the police, on foot and horseback, were assailed with bottles and firecrackers. The police charged, beginning a five-hour riot.
Paul DeRienzo : I was with a crowd that was pushed onto East Ninth
Street by police. A large number of undercover officers wearing helmets were on the street, while other cops were running up and down the sidewalks. One officer chased me or was running blindly in my direction as I yelled "I'm PRESS," while holding up my official police press pass that I received from [radio station] WBAI, where I was working as a reporter. The cop continued to run after me in a rage, running directly into me. We tangled; both rolled onto the sidewalk, I yelled that I was with the media, showed my press pass, while the officer climbed up off the street holding his leg, which was obviously in great pain. I jumped up, tried to watch my back so I wouldn't be hit from behind by a police officer, and then I was able to leave the area.
Jerry the Peddler : Things started getting tense, and by midnight, all
hell was breaking loose. All up and down Avenue A, people were dodging horses and nightsticks while yelling at the kops: "It's our fucking park." Around 2:00, I was chased down St. Mark's to First Avenue. I ducked into what was then the St. Mark's Bar and Grill and had a quick beer. Fifteen minutes later, I was back on the street, heading toward Avenue A. Two kops, one on foot and the other on horseback, were standing in the middle of the street. The one on foot was pointing straight at me, so I turned around and headed back toward First Avenue. The kop on horseback came galloping up beside me and I started thinking it would be easier to get by the kop on foot. The pork on the horse came riding up on the sidewalk behind me and kicked me square in the back, yelling "Whose fucking park?" I fell to the ground, gasping for breath and yelled back "OUR fucking park!"
Chris Flash : For much of the night, I was running from and dodging
waves of vicious out-of-control cops who were attacking anybody in their sights. It didn't matter if they were curfew protestors, bystanders, or even yuppies out for a night on the town. Cops would surge west on St. Mark's Place and south on Avenue A, as folks ran for their lives. Those who didn't run, rationalizing that they hadn't done anything, were set upon and beaten.
TOMPKINS SQUARE RIOT MEMORIES
By PAUL DERIENZO et al.
Published in: the Shadow, New York, issue 53, August 2008
What follows are personal accounts from various people who were present on that fateful night in Tompkins Square on August 6, 1988. They observed and experienced firsthand the bloodlust of the marauding cops invading our neighborhood from all over the city. Twenty years later, these memories are still fresh in the minds of those who were there, as though it all happened just yesterday....
When the surges would recede back toward the park, we would follow
them back. During one surge, my buddy Bobby Apocalypse, who was bartending
at the International Bar on First Avenue, hid me out in the bathroom. I hadn't done anything wrong, but I wasn't going to try to
reason with them. On St. Mark's, as I headed back to Avenue A, I saw cops on horseback at full gallop beating a running man with their clubs, as though
they were playing polo. At one point, cops lined up in formation along Avenue A. A police helicopter descended above them and blew their hats off, causing them to scurry around like Keystone Kops as they retrieved them. This was met with howls of laughter by protesters and bystanders alike.
Later, during another surge south on Avenue A, cops chasing people to the corner of Fourth Street were forced to retreat when residents of a tall apartment house tossed bottles at them from the windows above. As 6:00am approached, we were dog tired, but maintained our confrontation against the cops at Sixth and A, as they slowly withdrew. By 6:00, they were completely gone. From there, we all ran into the park, feeling victorious, though I realized that by holding us off until 6:00, when the park was officially open for the day, the cops could claim victory. Despite our exhaustion, the anger
level was still high. A few dozen people ran through the park, to the Christodora House on Avenue B. The lobby was raided and occupied by the crowd. A large potted plant in the lobby was removed and thrown into the street as people took over Avenue B, chanting and cheering. Suddenly, the cry went out to "Save the tree!" and it was quickly replanted inside the park.
Frank Morales : I saw that night revolt showcased on the streets all
over. Graffiti, rebellious ornamentalism, flyers, and silk-screen posters were everywhere. A sight for sore eyes, Our squatter symbol, a circle with a lightning arrow shot through it, over the words "Gentrification is Genocide," "Seize the Land," everywhere. So too, Missing Foundation's upside down martini glass, "Th
Party's Over," "1988=1933," "Your House is Mine." Also nihilism with an attitude, like Nick Zedd's "Police State," and the plain truth of the Rivington School, a circle with arrows pointing in opposite directions. Scratched on a walls, "Free the Park, Saturday August 6 Midnight, Be There or Bury Your Neighborhood." I took heart when I saw some young well attired punk girls, in from the Island, out after a night of partying, bar hopping and the like.
Unaware of what was transpiring, they instinctively jump into the fray with a giggling and sweet rendition of "This Land is Our Land," sung in the face of tone deaf aggressors on 9th Street, one of the girls skipping boldly Alice in Wonderland across the war zone. And I could hear, under-lying that, an equally inspired, quiet, soulful, "We Shall Overcome," being sung by some black men a few doors down. What a telling scene I thought, imagining Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, digging it all, who lived together on 10th Street, looking out their window blessing this moment of beauty and the blues, and love under fire. The violence that the police were wreaking that night had people clinging to each other. Frantic to get back inside local eateries and such seeking protection, inside a familiar bodega, a frightened crowd of instantly bonded comrades. Like a tornado about to hit, we had to put our collective shoulders to the task, slamming Alcatraz door shut, keeping out the marauding cops, who are now rabidly rapping with their nightsticks on the window grate, clearly grimacing inches away with threatening ugly funny cop faces, giddy frightened patrons on the other side looking out, who were not into being beaten, shutting them out of the bar, successfully, celebrating, and the bar-keep howls: Drinks on the house!
John Penley : I watched NY Times photographer Angel Franco getting
hit by a cop on a horse at the Seventh + A entrance to the park. He showed the cop his press pass while he was trying to take his picture and the cop hit him with his club and broke his finger. I saw cops going after a waitress inside the 7A Café. The female manager intervened and they dragged her out into the street by her hair. I don't know what else happened, because I was running. My ex-wife was working at the Chameleon on Sixth Street. The bar became a hospital ward for people being beaten by cops - the window guards were pulled down as injured people kept coming by for help. When the cops came, she wouldn't let them in.
Ned : It was one day after I'd just gotten fired from my job. I went down to
the park as usual, knowing that there was crazy shit going to happen. There were about 250 cops, for a guess, about half on horseback on Avenue A. The park was full of people, some with signs and stuff. At the time, the park was supposed to close, cops on foot in riot gear attempted to force us out. I, among others, opted to pelt them with stuff. A girl I knew (who died 2 years later) gave me a 40 ouncer. I clipped one in the face mask of his riot gear. A woman cop shouted that I had hit a cop and to get me. I turned around and ran like hell to Avenue A. About halfway across, they choked me out and brought me down. "I can't breathe," I said. "It's a bitch, ain't it?" came the reply. They put me in a van with others, chained us together at the ankle, and took us to the Ninth precinct. As the night wore on, I was surprised at the number of people that were brought into the cell with broken knees, arms, legs, etc. At some point during the night, we were brought down to central booking, processed, then brought to a holding cell with 13 or so other cell mates. About 33 hours after being arrested, I went before the judge with a court appointed attorney. A court date was set. I was apprehensive, since I was charged with felony assault of a police officer. Weeks went by and it got harder to sleep through the night. As the date got closer, the ACLU appointed Bob Sullivan to my case. Thanks to his able defense, we plea bargained down to disorderly conduct. What a relief. I didn't get to sue like others did, but really I wouldn't have had a case anyway. I'm 41 now. I still look back on that time as the most intense time ever. So much has changed since then. The Lower East side will never be the same.
Allen : Some of the events from that night are perfectly clear, but
admittedly some are a bit blurry. Not only has twenty years past (shit!), but I was doing the Mad Dog/Vodka shuffle that night. That's one pint of awful cheap wine and one pint of awful cheap vodka. The end result is... a riot, I guess. I was actually crashing in the park a lot those days. I had lost my job and my apartment, and was crashing either on friends' sofas or floors, or in the park. Back then, there were so many punks, skinheads, metal heads, drunks, junkies, hard luck homeless, etc...in the park at night that it was actually extremely safe to sleep there. Everybody knew everybody else, and no one fucked with you if you were cool. There sincerely was a code of sorts, an honor amongst thieves kind of thing. The day of the riots, everyone knew that mayor Koch had decided to impose a 12:00 curfew on the park, which at the time was pretty much a slap in the face of the entire community. What people nowadays don't realize, is back then, people really didn't have a problem with what the park was all about. Yeah, there were people living in
handmade tents, and crashing on benches, and it wasn't all pretty, but there was an amazing sense of community in the neighborhood back then, and the community policed ourselves to a degree. In other words, don't rip off the neighborhood businesses and they'll look out for you when you're broke. Anyway, as the minutes ticked down towards midnight, more and more cops started showing up, and more and more protesters started showing up. A bunch of us decided that we'd stay in the park after curfew and see what happened. 12:00 - Shit, they were serious! They came into the park with riot gear and night sticks and we all ran like hell getting out of there. Still, somehow, it didn't seem real. We all ran across Avenue A and lined up on the west side of the street. Meanwhile, an army of cops in riot gear and on horses surrounded the park across the street from us. That was the big stand off. That's also when a tremendous amount of media footage was shot, including an unfortunate shot of me banging my (empty) vodka bottle against a street sign while everyone chanted "Pigs out of the park", and "Whose fucking
park?...Our fucking park"! By then, the helicopters had been called in and I remember one almost landing on the top of the Alcatraz (a bar that was on St. Mark's and A at the time). I have to admit thinking that this was the coolest thing in the world at the time. I mean, shit, this was it! War! Us against them! Youth run amok! Fuck the pigs! Punk fucking rock!!! Then something crazy happened. The cops actually charged us! One minute we were screaming,
chanting, yelling, and then...boom. Everyone ran like hell. It was at that point that point that my sad, revolutionary (and drunk) ass made a terrible decision. As the intelligent, sober mass of protesters retreated west on Saint Mark's, I cleverly ran directly to a pay phone, where I figured that I could disguise my pathetic, bottle banging, "Kill the pigs" chanting self as an innocent payphone patron. The fact that it was three feet away from where the cops had been looking at me for the last two hours did not occur to me at the time. I remember literally saying "Hey Mom" in the receiver at the time, knowing that this would make my disguise perfect. The cops would simply run right by me and beat up everyone else. Imagine my surprise when I saw that massive wall of blue run towards me, and that one cop in the lead swing his stick not one, not two, but three times over his head, and then up like nunchucks. The fourth swing went right between my legs and up and into my balls. Naturally, I went down, and after that there were at least six other cops kicking me and beating the hell out of me with their sticks. I don't know how I finally got up but I did. That's when all the news footage was shot of me getting thrown down the street without my shirt on (my shirt got ripped off in the beating). I remember at that point running into an old friend and telling her to get the fuck out. They meant business. We made it over to 7th street where it seemed a bit safer. That's when a whole crew of cops (by then we had noticed that they were covering their badge numbers with tape) ran down the street in a pack. I swear to God that as they made their way down the street, I saw them bust out the windows of every single parked car on the block. They were also yelling "NYPD Rules" and shit like that. In addition, I remember seeing cops shove their nightsticks in to the spokes of passing bicyclists, and also beat and shove innocent people coming out of bars. it was an ugly, ugly night.
I remember running into a guy named Spider (R.I.P.) at the Gem Spa and some people taking pictures of us. They ended up in The SHADOW years ago. I eventually found my girlfriend that night and she took me to Saint Vincent's, where I was treated for a dislocated shoulder, lacerations, bruises, etc... I also remember that cops visited me that night in the hospital to "Get my statement". That was scary as shit, but the doctor was really cool, and I remember him yelling at them - "You did this to him, get out of here!" Cool doctor.
Things have changed a lot down here since then, and I honestly believe that the NYPD is one of them. I think that they are smarter and cooler than they were back then and should get some props for that. Other changes in this neighborhood are not so positive. The developers have turned this beautiful old neighborhood into a shell of what it once was. A once thriving, revolutionary mecca has been transformed into Anytown, U.S.A. That's why memories are so important.
Clayton Patterson : I made a 3 hour and 33 minute video tape of out of control and violent police wilding against the defenseless Lower East Side residents, the tape that classified the night as a "Police Riot." If one sees that tape today, a viewer will be completely shocked at the lack of authority the ranking officers had over the lower ranking cops. The police were clearly out of control. The police claimed that they were responding to local residents requesting a park curfew. This was a lie. Police commanders had made a previous agreement with the park homeless and drug addicts about where they could stay in the park that night. The police agenda on this night was to
kick the ass of those anarchists who had forced them to retreat the week before. Another blatant example of the curfew lie was the fact that the police did not spent the night closing and guarding the park, but were often several blocks from the park. Most of my night was spent on Sixth Street and Avenue A.
My videotape of the riot got 6 cops criminally indicted, the captain was removed from the precinct, a chief was retired, some cops were fired, and many innocent injured civilians used my tape to sue the city. I did not sue, but this night of police rioting has taken me on a 20 year and counting journey through the inside of police precincts, through court systems, both civil and criminal, the police trial unit at 1 Police Plaza, and the state and federal justice system. I have been followed, videotaped, photographed, had teeth knocked out, been arrested 14 times, all compliments of NYPD. All because of documenting police actions on NYC streets. As this anniversary date was approaching, I was arrested documenting what was a minor fire on Ludlow Street. There was no frozen zone, no police-line, people were allowed to walk through, kids were hanging out, businesses were opening -- there was not even a fire, just a little smoke. It is totally bizarre, especially since the anniversary of the Police Riot is coming up. It would be a little ridiculous and funny if it was not so sinister.
Paul Garrin : Saturday night on August 6, 1988 was hot and humid. Fortunately, that night, I was booked at Broadway Video to do special effects and editing on my video work entitled "Free Society." Just after midnight, the technician and I started work on image processing of various riot scenes that I had collected over time by recording the TV news. Just as our session was getting up to speed, the power suddenly went off and all the media equipment and computers in the entire place went dark. The excessive power demand that night caused a brownout in Midtown. There was no engineering staff on duty to safely bring systems back up, so I took a taxi back to my apartment on Seventh Street, just off Avenue B.
As I got out of the taxi, I looked up Seventh Street and saw flashing lights, a
helicopter hovering just above the rooftops, and police on horseback riding on Avenue A. I had no idea what was going on, but with the sight of all the police vehicles and riot cops on the street, I thought it would be a good chance to get some fresh material for Free Society. I went back to my apartment to pick up a new Sony video 8 camera that I borrowed from my friend. I walked to the corner of Avenue A, but there were cops all over the
corner blocking the view and preventing me from seeing or turning the corner. I took some shots of the cops standing around, and caught some mounted police riding their horses South on Avenue A.
A police helicopter was hovering just above what was then Leshko's Coffee Shop at Seventh and A. I took some footage as it hung there, almost touching the rooftops, kicking up dust and debris on the street. I had a feeling that there was more going on around the corner, so I doubled back around Avenue B and up Sixth Street to Avenue A, where I came upon the front line of riot cops with helmets and shields that spanned east to west across Avenue A. I started the tape rolling and panned the lineup of riot cops and some apparent police brass among them. There was the occasional sound of glass breaking as bottles hit the street not far from the police. Suddenly, a herd of cops broke formation and chased people up Sixth Street toward First Avenue, nightsticks flailing into bodies and darkness. I didn't feel very safe at that moment and I scoped out a van parked on Avenue A, just by the Con Edison substation, for cover. As the confrontation escalated, I climbed to the roof of the van to get above the fray and to secure a better vantage point for my camera. Again, the cops broke ranks and began pushing people with their nightsticks and chasing them down the avenue. I was following the action as much as I could, when I heard two thumps against the metal body of the van--then noticed that the van was surrounded by cops shouting "GET DOWN" at me, swinging their nightsticks at my legs and at the legs of two other photographers perched next to me. The cops were shouting at me to get down, and at the same time
were swinging their nightsticks trying to hit me--an irreconcilable situation. I continued to roll tape as I danced to avoid the blows of the nightsticks, and shouted "I'M GETTING DOWN! JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE...". As I sat down on the roof and started to come down, one cop lunged at me out of the darkness and grabbed me by my shirt, swung me around, and slammed me against the brick wall at the substation, as my camera rolled on. He screamed at me "PUT YOUR FUCKING HANDS TO YOURSELF OR I'LL CRACK YOUR FUCKIN' SKULL!!! YOU GOT ME?" I answered: "Yeah, I got you!" as I hit the ground and felt him kicking me. Then he yelled: "NOW GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!!!!" and then he stomped on the video camera. I was dazed, the camera hit me in the face as the cop assaulted me, and cut me above my eye...I realized that the cop said to get the fuck out of there, and not that I was under arrest, so after ascertaining that the camera
and tape were actually intact, I took his advice and got the fuck out of there. I went to a bodega and got some bandaids and put one on the cut above my right eye, and got back out on the street to shoot some more footage. I could see in the distance the cops beating a man with nightsticks as he lay on the street next to a parked car. After the cops beat the guy, they ran away. When I came closer, there was a guy standing on the sidewalk covered in blood, that gushed from a clear opening in his head. People rushed to help him and tried to stop the bleeding with a t-shirt or whatever was on hand. Finally, paramedics came and took the bloodied man to the hospital. Fires were burning in the streets. The cops retreated. Fire trucks raced up the avenue, sirens blaring. People wandered in all directions in the smoke haze and heat, dazed and outraged by what had been going down throughout the night.
As things quieted down, I went to a nearby pay phone and started calling the local TV news stations. I got through to CBS and NBC, but both night desk operators were skeptical, especially since I shot with a home camcorder and not professional TV gear. I said: "Where the hell are you guys? The cops are going wild in the streets beating the crap out of people and there are no news cameras anywhere to record this. I just got my ass kicked for no reason, but I did record it on video. Besides my own beating, I have people bleeding, and cops seemingly out of control." I was asked "What did you shoot it on?" I said: "On video 8." He said "We can't air that! it's not broadcast spec!" I told him, "Look, send your crew with your beta cam and I'll dub you the tape directly." I guess speaking tv speak worked, and he said that a crew and a
reporter would come out in the morning.
At around 8:00am, CBS and NBC crews were outside my building. I connected both teams to my video playback and they copied the footage as we watched it on the tv monitor in my living room. When the reporters interviewed me on camera, I asked that they not show my face and not use my name, as I was afraid of repercussions by the police. The reporter said "Aww come on, show your face. You have a black eye--it's GOOD
TELEVISION!" I said ok, no silhouette, but please don't use my full name! They agreed, and the interview continued. That night, the report was the top story on every local channel, highlighted by the point-of-view shot of my own beating by the cops. Besides breaking the story and contradicting the official police story that "nothing happened," my video tape also exposed the attempted cover up--many, if not most, of the cops who rioted either covered their badges with black tape, or in some cases completely removed their badges in order to avoid identification. A shot of a cop with a covered badge from my video made the front page of the NY Post. Mayor Ed Koch and Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward stuttered in front of the news cameras as they tried to explain away the obvious police criminality captured on my videotape.
Feeling that my identity was protected, I went on with my life, and back to work on my video. When I got home the next night, I played back my answering machine, which had recorded death threats, apparently left by police. I called the mayor's office at 3am to report the death threats, but the cop that answered the phone--a sergeant--refused to get a message to Mayor Koch. Not knowing who else to call, knowing that it wouldn't work to call the cops on the cops, I called the FBI. I called the local news, who ate it up. Every channel's crew was knocking at my door to get the story and take a shot of the threats playing back on my answering machine.
At this point, my identity was public and there was no turning back, so I decided to go full-on high profile. I made lots of duplicates of the video onto VHS tapes and made the rounds the next day to the U.S. Attorney's office, the District Attorney's office, led by high-powered legal counsel Gerald Walpin (the D.A. almost dropped to her knees when Walpin walked with me through the door into her office.) I made sure that everybody had a free copy of my video tape--not only was it a major news story, it was also evidence. I arranged a supervised copy of the original tape with the D.A.'s office, and they accepted that--the original tape never left my hands and there was never a question or demand for it beyond the supervised dub from the original that was entered into evidence. I wanted everybody to have a copy of it and wanted everyone to see what my camera recorded that night.
The power of the video to scoop the mainstream media and contradict the official lies became evident, and the event became known as the Tompkins Square Police Riot. From that moment on, the local news began soliciting home video--instead of scoffing at it. The face of news gathering was forever changed, as was the aesthetics of television, for better or worse, with "reality" shows, such as COPS and America's Funniest Home Videos.
The euphoria of scooping the media and heralding the truth was intoxicating for a time, and it felt like what I called "Reverse Big Brother-not the state watching the people, but the people watching the state." I knew that video served as a tool, a weapon, and a witness. The Tompkins Square Riot video inspired many to pick up their cameras and record what would have otherwise been unseen. The video revolution swept across the airwaves and across the world, as communism fell in the Eastern bloc, and as the cops armed themselves with cameras and media. The riot became a media riot, and escalated to a media war. Then, I advised: "Use your camera intelligently." Today, with internet and a shakeup in the media distribution system, that same advice applies: "Use your media intelligently." The Tompkins Square Riot video was the spark that ignited the camcorder revolution, and it was the first wave leading up to the internet media revolution of today, 20 years later.
Artist Surrenders Videotape Of Clash in Tompkins Square
By CONSTANCE L. HAYS, NY Times Published: September 17, 1988
Ending a 16-day holdout, a yesterday to turn over a copy police and demonstrators Park.
But the artist, Clayton Richard B. Lowe 3d of State wanted the judge to keep the be screened ''for the people.''
Judge Lowe asked Mr. the public screening.
''Probably Tuesday night,'' Sept. 1
Manhattan artist agreed of his videotape showing the clashing in Tompkins Square
Patterson, told Acting Justice Supreme Court that he tape until a copy of it could
Patterson when he planned
Mr. Patterson said. Arrested
When the assistant district attorney, Carol Ann Stokinger, expressed no objection to the plan, the judge said he would turn over a copy of the tape to the Manhattan District Attorney's office on Wednesday. ''That will be done,'' he added, ''whether or not you have made arrangements to show it to the public.''
The hearing yesterday brought to an end the unusual minuet between Mr. Patterson and the courts over the videotape, which was subpoenaed Aug. 19. Mr. Patterson dismissed his lawyer, Alton H. Maddox Jr., and refused to turn over the tape. He was arrested Sept. 1 on a civil contempt of court charge.
Judge Lowe appointed a lawyer for Mr. Patterson and adjourned the hearing until Sept. 6. During that session, Mr. Patterson refused all legal assistance, saying he wanted to represent himself. He also told the court that he did not want to turn over the tape for various reasons, including his concern about the homeless and what he said was the failure of the District Attorney's office to prosecute a drug dealer and a police officer who he said had harassed him.
Mr. Patterson, of 161 Essex Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was found in contempt at the Sept. 6 hearing and sentenced to 90 days in the civil section of the Bronx House of Detention for Men. Going to Jail 'Loses Its Purpose'
At a hearing Tuesday, Mr. Patterson insisted that he had no plans to turn over the tape.
Yesterday, however, he said, ''There's a certain point where going to jail loses its purpose.''
''This is not the end,'' Mr. Patterson added, as a crowd of supporters milled around him outside the courtroom at 111 Centre Street. ''This is the beginning. We're going to continue trying to show people that police brutality does indeed exist.''
A Riot? 1988? What Riot?
By JESSE McKINLEY Published: Aug. 10, 1997
S ince the 1988 riot at Tompkins Square Park, the event's anniversary had become the occasion for rock concerts featuring punk or folkie bands whose angry political ethos matched that of the original protesters. Trash cans were burned, arrests were usually made, and the memory of the riot was secure.
Problem is attendance was declining. So this year organizers decided to try a new tack -- inviting two underground rave promoters to program the music.
''Ravers are the new hippies, and we're the old hippies,'' said Jerry the Peddler, a local, well, hippie and de facto organizer of the event. ''It's a handshake across the generation.''
So it was that on afternoon that a ravers -- face-stickered, devotees of techno on the park to old-timers quickly was that their counterparts has politics of the at all, for that
''What riot?'' said Jill heard of it.''
She was not alone.
found nobody who
1988, when an
park curfew erupted into a battle between protesters and the police.
crowd of some 500 bell-bottomed, lollipop-sucking music -- descended celebrate. What realized, however, younger
little interest in the occasion. Or politics matter.
Shari, 23. ''Never
An informal poll of teen-age crowd knew of of Aug. 6, attempt to impose a
''It's about giving thanks to all the kids who support the rave scene,'' said Adam Pontari, 19, when asked about the reason for event. ''At least, that's my guess.''
In the old-timers' eyes, the event became yet another indicator of how far the neighborhood has fallen from its days as a hotbed. Indeed, the thundering monotonous techno music left little room for political speech. Gone were the Dylanesque lyrics. A typical techno chorus went: ''One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.'' (Repeat.)
Perhaps the most annoyed constituency was the ''gutter punk'' crowd, which watched from a distance.
''They put glitter on their faces and think they're cool,'' said Joe Stivallas, 18, who sat with a pit bull. ''But they're just some joke with a couple of turntables.''
Still, some aspects endured. After Jerry the Peddler was arrested (as he is most years), his supporters ran up to the police van and launched into a fit of righteous rhetoric.
But by afternoon's end, no one on stage had even mentioned the riots. The final insult came when one promoter, Colin Strange, ended the event early and thanked the police for ''being so great.'' As Mr. Strange left the stage, he was accosted by a small crowd demanding what he meant.
''I was asked to throw a rave,'' Mr. Strange answered. ''Nobody told me to throw a riot.''
If Police Can't Take Action, the Streets Will Be Even
Published: January 25, 1989
To the Editor:
''Tompkins Square and Larry Davis'' (editorial, Dec. 31) simply ignored some rather disturbing elements in the Tompkins Square Park episode of last Aug. 7.
If you are convinced that all of the people allegedly abused by the police were innocent bystanders or naturalists out to commune with nature, we certainly do not share that view. Sufficient evidence has been elicited to establish that a group of self-avowed anarchists conspired not only to incite riot and mayhem at the scene, but also to provoke, attack and then falsely to accuse police officers of misconduct. Indeed, the deleterious element that descended on the park on the night in question eventually took the shape of a violence-prone mob comprising druggies, drunks, skinheads and anarchists, who went on to attack and injure police officers assigned to enforce a park curfew.
Have you ever concerned yourself with the injuries that are sustained by police officers? In your frenzied rush to punish the police for alleged misconduct, have you, on balance, called for swift punishment for those found guilty of resorting to mob rule and assaulting police officers?
Frankly, your priorities are confused. Should the police have retreated and allowed the savage horde to burn, pillage and otherwise engage in the kind of deviant behavior that made a shambles of the right of the decent residents to enjoy security and tranquillity in their own neighborhood? If the police are made to retreat in the face of mob violence, the rule of law is summarily destroyed.
But if the police are to they were charged to 7 - they must use force life-threatening
force used by the police has been subjectively excessive and by others regrettable that a few victimized in the wild, ensued.
However, what is even some officers at the necessary to remove that they would explain their use of the Civilian Complaint and local grand juries tribunal.
uphold the law - as do on the night of Aug. when confronted with violence. The extent of at Tompkins Square observed by some as as too restrained. It is innocents were chaotic melee that
more regrettable is that scene found it their shields out of fear ultimately have to necessary force before Review Board, Federal and a department
And it is that paradoxical element of fear on the part of police officers that should be of major concern to you and all other responsible parties. For if the police are so psychologically atrophied that they cannot take appropriate action when necessary, then the streets of New York City will become even more unsafe than they are now.
PHIL CARUSO President, Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. New York, Jan. 13, 1989
THE HOMELESS PEOPLE OF TOMPKINS
“By the end of the Side felt like it had fair share of failed The homeless crisis was In 1990 there were homeless in New Y ork, were at risk of losing
January 4, 1994. A march down
Taylor, another homeless Tompkins
By 1991, the estimated 300
Square Park were gone and the
renovations. After its reopening in
quickly started to transform into one of the most high-rent communities in New York.
1980s the Lower East suffered more than its government politics. reaching a critical mass. 70,000 to 80,000 and 250,000 people their homes.”
Avenue B in memory of Terry Square activist who died of AIDS. homeless people living in Tompkins park was forcefully closed for summer 1992, the Lower East Side
December 14, 1989. In the freezing early morning following eviction from the park, a homeless couple packs their things.
The Case of ‘The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park’
February 2, 2012 | From: The Villager
BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | By the end of the 1980s the Lower East Side felt like it had suffered more than its fair share of failed government politics. The homeless crisis was reaching a critical mass. In 1990 there were 70,000 to 80,000 homeless in New York, and 250,000 people were at risk of losing their homes.
The drastic cuts in social spending, together with the increasing rate of inflation due to the worldwide financial crisis at the end of the 1980s and the cutbacks in jobs, entailed a rapid pauperization among the middle and lower classes. Additional cuts in state subsidies for affordable housing further exacerbated the housing situation. And there was the conversion of the
S.R.O.’s (single-room-occupancy all remember Mayor Koch’s “If You Cannot Afford To Live
In 1989 Tompkins Square Park up of hundreds of homeless same problems associated with Park. And as at Zuccotti Park, the govern and control their own
Back in ’89, one particularly much consternation and concern sleeping in Tompkins Square was that of a woman’s head stove. The rumor was so constant contacted the police.
It turns out the rumors were true.
It was getting to the bottom of became complicated. In the end, charged with the murder. But my do it? After his arrest, Rakowitz number of years, in one way or there are a number of mysteries
The murdered woman’s name was
Switzerland, was a dance student
Dance. She was Daniel’s
at 700 E. Ninth St. The conflict centered around Monica having the lease and threatening to evict Daniel. Eventually, Daniel, high on acid, was video-interviewed by the police and confessed to hitting her in the throat. However, he always claimed he was tricked and was adamant about the fact that he did not commit the murder. O.K., let’s see. ...
He did talk violent nonsense, like, “Kill the pigs and feed them to the hogs.” But one reason I thought about his innocence was the fact that whenever there was a violent conflict between the police and the protesters, Daniel always left. Outside of his delusional verbiage, he appeared to be nothing more than a passive, nonviolent, pot-smoking, hippie type with a broken arm. However, there is no question he was involved in dismembering Beerle’s body and then disposing of everything but the bones.
Because of the high-profile nature of this crime, I assumed all of the prison telephone conversations I had with him had to have been taped. Daniel went into great, gruesome detail about how he and Eddie and Sylvia, who also crashed in the apartment, cut up the body. Later, I interviewed Sylvia and Eddie and they also went into intimate detail about how they all cut up the body and the problems associated with such a despicable criminal act.
hotels) to co-ops and condos. We famous solution to the problem: Here, Move.”
was filled with a “Tent City” made people. Tent City had many of the Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti activists and the homeless tried to space.
disturbing rumor that caused among, not only the people Park, but the activist community, having been boiled on top of a that a local reporter had
this “who done it” murder that Daniel Rakowitz was arrested and question has always been, Did he contacted me and I have spent a another, following this case. And connected to this murder.
Monica Beerle. Beerle, from at the Martha Graham School of roommate in a tenement building
Daniel cleaned and kept most of the dead woman’s bones. He was saving them to give them to Monica’s mother in Switzerland. In the meantime, he kept them in a drywall-compound bucket, filled with cat litter, in a locker at the Port Authority. When asked by the police about the body, he told them about the locker. The police went to the locker, found the bucket, and there were indeed human bones inside.
According to Dorothy, an investigative assistant to Daniel’s lawyer, on the advice of their own pro-bono lawyer, Eddie and Sylvia, when interviewed by authorities, pleaded the Fifth, and that satisfied the authorities. Eddie and Sylvia were never charged with any crime.
Daniel was charged with the murder. One of the unfortunate sidebars of the trial was that the charge of cannibalism stuck as a fact in the case. One of the prosecutor’s habitual criminal witnesses was able to trade a criminal conviction for a get-out-of-jail-free card if he would tell his a tale of finding a human finger in a bowl of homemade “Rakowitz soup” that Daniel had allegedly ladled out in the park. That is a myth: I do not believe that Rakowitz ever served any such soup in the park.
In the end, on Feb. 22, 1991, Daniel was found not guilty by reason of insanity — and he has been committed ever since. He is now in Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center for the criminally insane on Wards Island, in New York City.
In the Daniel Rakowitz Wikipedia entry there are a number of questionable facts. For example, the part of his cooking the brain, tasting it and liking it, and thereafter referring to himself as a cannibal. There’s no question he dismembered the body, but out of the hours of conversation I’ve had with Daniel, he’s always denied cooking the soup, feeding it to the homeless or tasting it himself.
Also, according to Daniel, he was born in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri (his father was a criminal investigator for the Army), not Rockport, Texas. At his subsequent sanity trials, like the repeated cannibalism charge, the district attorney went on about “the Rakowitz stare.” There is no Rakowitz stare — just a dull expression.
I have visited Daniel many times over the years and he always pushes the same story of someone else having done the murder, but he states he is not allowed to say who did it. Considering that most of the people connected to the case are dead or gone, and certainly non-threatening, I think he did what he was charged with doing. At the time of his trial he was delusional. And, in my mind, it is possible because of all the psychedelic drugs he was doing that he is convinced someone else committed the murder. He always took responsibility for hitting her in the throat, as well as his part in the body’s mutilation. It was the gap between the death and the mutilation that was unexplained.
But another reason I was interested in following the case is the fact that, in my opinion, the prosecutors were just as emotionally hysterical and physiologically out there as Daniel was. I’m not sure what stimulated or caused the D.A.’s imagination to go so far from reality, but the prosecution construed this whole fictional scenario of how Patrick Geoffrois, a local tarot card reader and mystic, was the head of a satanic cult. They went so far as to suggest that the murder was a satanic ritual, led by Patrick, and that I had videotaped the whole gruesome ceremony.
Of course, none of their imaginary fiction contained even a grain of truth. But it did create, for me and Patrick, a few complicated situations with a number of attempted setups by the local authorities. There’s not enough space to elaborate on it here, but in one setup, the police ended up with a search warrant to my home, confiscating a tape I had recorded for my “Clayton Presents” program on Manhattan Neighborhood Network public-access TV.
If their setup did not have the possibility of ending up with such really serious consequences, the premise of what they were suggesting was so ridiculous I would have laughed at the audacity of their imagination. My blessing was my Legal Aid lawyer, Sarah Jones. She was very smart, related to President Rutherford B. Hayes, and worked at Legal Aid because of her idealism.
She could have made much more money in the corporate world. She did laugh at some of what they were projecting. It took me more than a year of going to court to get the tape back into my archives.
This prosecutorial satanic madness led to some very strange and unique interactions between myself and the “authorities.” This part of the history will have to be dealt with on another day. But there is no question I got an insider’s view of two different sides of social madness. This part of my L.E.S. legal journey taught me lessons about how dangerous out-of-control individuals with political and legal power can be — in this case, the police and prosecutors. And also how dangerous speculative gossip can be. Thankfully, I survived the madness with just a few scrapes and bruises. It could have been much worse.
Pictured Above In Order:
Daniel Rakowitz in Tompkins Square Park. Photo by Clayton Patterson.
Untitled From Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki.
Untitled(Homeless Man in T ompkins) From Tompkins Square Park by Q. Sakamaki.
Puerto Rican Episcopal priest and activist.
Summing up his feelings about squatting, Morales said, “ The only way you can get housing is to seize it. The buildings are sitting empty. People need housing. It’s fun to do this — that’s a big part of it for me. It’s fun to sweep out the debris. You can make a daycare center or community kitchen.”
“I used to walk out of services with a crowbar and we’d open up abandoned buildings...”
Riot Police Remove 31 Squatters From Two East Village Buildings
By SHAWN G. KENNEDY Published: May 31, 1995
With a show of force befitting a small invasion, the Police Department seized two East Village tenements yesterday, overwhelming a defiant group of squatters who had resisted city efforts to retake the buildings for nearly nine months.
Using a tanklike armored vehicle and carrying riot gear, hundreds of officers moved in on the city-owned buildings to try to end years of occupation by the squatters, who argued that their long-term presence and efforts to rehabilitate the once-abandoned buildings gave them the right to stay.
The takeover of the two buildings at 541 and 545 East 13th Street occurred about midmorning, many hours after the police first arrived and were met by makeshift barricades consisting of old furniture, appliances and trash containers.
Well before dawn, the block between Avenue A and Avenue B was filled with dozens of squatters and their sympathizers, who danced, taunted officers and banged on trash-can lids and street signs. The site is only a few blocks from Tompkins Square Park,
where a violent clash between the police and protesters occurred in the summer of 1988.
The police had also expected a violent conclusion to the eviction process. But while the police had to break through doors that the squatters had welded shut, in the end most of the squatters yielded peacefully. The police arrested 31 people, many of whom tried to form a human chain in front of the buildings, but there were no serious injuries.
The show of force was ordered by city officials in an effort to insure the safety of Buildings Department workers who actually carried out the evictions. Although the city has for months been seeking a court decision that would give them the right to retake five buildings on the block, officials won a more limited ruling last week saying they could evict people from the two buildings because inspectors felt they were in danger of collapse.
At a news conference in the afternoon, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani defended the effort. "The fact is you can't occupy city buildings and not pay rent, have them in the conditions that these buildings were in, which were dangerous," he said. "God forbid that something happens to these buildings, the first thing would have been the city would have been blamed for not doing something about it."
Unlike the poor immigrants who have taken over other city-owned buildings in the Bronx and elsewhere as an alternative to homeless shelters, most of the squatters on East 13th Street are artists, musicians and poets whose stance against the city is as much about politics as about the need for housing.
Most are white, most have jobs and over the years, they
have carved comfortable spaces out of the dilapidated
properties that the city owns because the previous owners
defaulted on taxes. It is unclear how many people lived in
the two buildings, but the squatters said there were about 100 residents in the five city-owned buildings on the block.
"What you see here is a classic David and Goliath story," said Frank Morales, who stood at a police barricade at dawn yesterday trying to explain why he and other squatters would risk arrest and injury in defense of their positions. "The city is wrong on this issue and we must take a stand against what is happening all over this neighborhood. The city is trying to take away our hard work, our sweat equity in these buildings without offering anything in return."
Mr. Morales said that many of the residents had left the buildings over the weekend as word spread that the police would try to retake them.
Although hundreds of squatters are encamped in similar buildings, over the years officials have largely let them alone and in a few
cases have actually helped them fix up their buildings. But housing officials say that with thousand of people on waiting lists for low-rent apartments, they have no choice but to go after buildings like those on East 13th Street.
While city officials stressed that the police action was motivated by concerns for the squatters' safety, the city is continuing to fight a court battle, begun in November before Justice Elliott Wilk of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, to gain broader rights to evict squatters.
The squatters, some of whom say they have lived in the buildings for more than 10 years, are claiming rights by "adverse possession." It is a legal principle that holds that someone who has had the continuous use of someone else's property without a formal objection or notice to vacate has a right to keep using it.
Mara Neville, a spokeswoman for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said officials had offered to provide emergency housing for the squatters. But so far, she said, none had sought the help. She said that their possessions would be removed and stored and that the buildings would be sealed.
Although the battle over the East Village buildings has been brewing for months, yesterday's confrontation developed after an Appellate Court ruling last Thursday that struck down a decision by Judge Wilk in April blocking evictions based on the safety issue.
Since the ruling, both sides geared for battle, with the city planning strategy and the squatters passing out leaflets seeking help from sympathizers in the neighborhood.
On Monday, the squatters and their supporters began dragging to the middle of 13th Street a collection of furniture, lumber, trash containers and worn-out appliances in an effort to slow the entry of the police, whom they were told to expect early Tuesday morning. An old car was moved to the middle of the block and overturned. At various places along 13th Street between Avenue A and B ropes were laid on the ground to trip the police.
According to the police, there were also booby traps, including concealed boards with nails protruding through them and patches of tar or oil in front of the building entrances.
The squatters also worked to fortify their buildings. "There was a 2 A.M. cutoff for fortification," said Peter Spagnuolo, who was inside the building at 541 East 13th. "We had two welding crews welding people inside the building, welding the doors shut. We were sealed in." Between 4 A.M. and dawn, the street took on a festival atmosphere. From a loudspeaker somewhere in the buildings, Bob Dylan could be heard singing "Rainy Day Women #12 & #35." At least a dozen people used brooms or wrenches to bang on No Parking signs.
See Skwat Community Room, 1992
Before dawn, helmeted patrolmen arrived by the score, and police vans, ambulances and squad cars pulled up to the curb on streets east of the squatter camp. Altogether, a police official said, up to 250 officers were involved in the confrontation.
By 5 A.M., police had cordoned off a five-block area near 13th Street. As the sun rose, the officers drew closer, taking positions on the roofs of nearby buildings as police helicopters circled overhead.
Just after 9:20 A.M., the police, backed up by emergency service trucks and fire vehicles, began ripping down the barricades. They then moved on to break up a line of demonstrators who had locked arms in front of the buildings. The fortification efforts also held off the police. Mr. Spagnuolo said it took the officers at least two hours to reach his apartment. "They ground off the hinges with a grinder," he said.
Bill Stark, who lived at 539 East 13th Street and who has a bicycle shop on the first floor, said he fled after seeing live reports on television of the police movements. "I remember seeing that tank vehicle; it was very frightening," he said. "I didn't want to get arrested. I didn't want to be separated from my dogs and her puppies."
Bob McGlynn longtime figure in New York City’s anarchist scene who linked the Tompkins Square Park protests of the 1980s to pro-democracy movements in Eastern Europe. Faced with police harassment and city government attempts to oppressively regulate cyclists, in 1982 he organized the first bike messengers’ union in New York, the Independent Couriers Association. In 1987, when Mayor Ed Koch issued an order banning bicycles from three Midtown avenues during working hours, the messengers repeatedly rode in a large group in defiance. McGlynn was on the frontlines of this successful struggle — the ban was overturned as unenforceable. McGlynn proudly called himself the “King of All Bicycle Messengers.”
McGlynn was again facing off with police in the streets when the city attempted to impose a curfew on Tompkins Square Park in 1988. That set off three years of conflict on the gentrifying Lower East Side, with squatters, anarchists and the homeless fighting the cops in an endless series of angry protests and riots. McGlynn, although living in Brooklyn, biked across the river to join in the action.
1988: Department of Corrections plans to moor a 400-man, $19 million prison barge at Pier 40. Police and East Village squatters and anarchists clash in Tompkins Square Park riot.
The Anarchist Switchboard
The Anarchist Switchboard was a radical bookstore located in the basement of 324 East 9th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave.
It was opened in 1986 by a man from the Libertarian (aka Anarchist) Book Club.
It was a “damp and dingy one-room spot with couches, exposed light bulbs and red concrete walls.”
The space contained speakers and hosted organizing meetings and poetry/folk performances. There were lots of activity in NYC and on Long Island that came out of that place, including NYC’s first Food Not Bombs (from people who had visited San Francisco and saw their F’n’B in action). The Switchboard also produced 11 issues of a zine (Black Eye) and a pamphlet (“Bakunin on Violence”).
The Anarchist Switchboard also was a figure in the August 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot. The Switchboard was also the victim of a right-wing skinhead mob attack on July 4th, 1989 and several people were badly injured (the skinheads were looking for “flag burners”). Eventually the Switchboard (which was started as a “free space” experiment) was taken over by a “mob of junkies”. “They slept there and stank the tiny place up”. Everybody stopped going there, and there was an outcry from the neighborhood to shut the place down. And down it went.
SABOTAGE (Fall 1989- Summer 1990)
A crew of people from the Switchboard wanted to start a more professional- style bookstore. They quite ambitiously rented a storefront on St. Mark’s Place (96 St. Mark’s Place btwn 1st & 2nd Ave). Sabotage opened Fall ‘89. I was a great place. They had shelves and shelves of awesome books, the place was always abuzz with activity (often too much!). Lots of activities related to the squatters movement and the height of the struggle against a curfew in Tompkins Square Park.
In March 1990 a punk rocker was killed (stabbed to death) by right-wing skinheads just up the street from Sabotage. July 4, 1990 an Anarchist picnic was attacked by this same mob of right-wing skins.
Sabotage crashed and burned. The neighborhood was hot because of lots of
clashes with the police around the park and in the squats. There was a lot of
aggro and pressure. Eventually the collective that ran the place split in two.
The bookstore got taken over by an assortment of LES crazies and didn’t
last a minute. The more level-headed Anarchist element dropped out and
put out a pamphlet explaining their side of things (“What Ever Happened To Sabotage?”).