Monday, May 28, 2007


Memorial Day 1991 Riot in Tompkins Square Park ...

This was Memorial Day 1991 : the spirit of the time was somewhat more rebelious than it is today .This night ... disorder ruled .
This is your avenue A without the boutiques ,bars and restaurants . There were no doggy pastry shops on avenue A : none in the entire nieghborhood for that matter .
Rents were still affordable and there were far fewer people living in the neighborhood . Very few had a condo yet but most had a place to live out of the weather and some even had a squat which later the city would give to them for a buck .
Money wasn't everything and there was still room for the unique and different true individual .
The designers , haircutters and nail salons hadn't arrived yet but innovation in painting ,poetry and music was still happening because there was still sufficient personal free time and affordable space to allow it to happen .
Of course there was crime but if you had a head on your shoulders and were respectful no one ever messed with you and you never got hurt.
This riot was the last big Tompkins Square Park riot and it was the riot that was immediately responsible for TSP being closed for more than a year .Judging from all the beer bottles seen to be available for throwing ,the concert in the park earlier in the day must have been something of a drunken revel with a little music .
Many , if not most involved in the riot were not from the neighborhood but were from other places and were in TSP at the concert to drink , hear music and riot .
At one point these out of towners tried to loot and set fire to a health and beauty aids store . Though they could successfully loot , the the intellectual and manual dexterity challenges involved in burning a building were to prove to be too much for them as they failed in the caustic part of their performance .
The police , late in the event , lined up to challenge the rioting masses and as they marched forth , with the local folks lining the street cheering , to drive the horde of miscreants from the field a sudden heavy rain-fall not only put out the fires in the street but also denied the police their chance to claim a victory by driving the apparently rain-sensitive rioters out of the street to drier places out of the rain .

Yeah I was in the Alcatraz that night and when the bottles started flying they pulled the metal shutters down. Ruined our front-row view of the action but made for a cozy evening. I remember hearing rocks and stuff smashing against metal and doing lots of shots of JD. Wasn't the proximate cause the eviction of the homeless from an abandoned bandshell in TS Park?
--Tom G.
No ,in this case it was just riot for the fun of riot though some of the earlier riots did have such socially conciously causes .
the essay captures something of the times well but are the rose colored glasses a bit thick? I've lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and while the current lack of affordability is a deep crisis, bck in the day I did get held up a couple times and did more than my fair share of nerve wracking negotiating with drug dealers and crack addicts to avoid other assualts. Can't say I miss that aspect of the late 70's and 80's...
i found a blurry pic of myself yelling at everyone when they were just about to loot the pharmacy on st.marks and ave a, at least i got everyone away from ray's they were gonna try to loot him first, but i threw a shit fit and everyone actually listened, imagine that!!! joanie
Great photos and recollection from that day, Bob!
I was there, living on St Marks between 1st and Ave A. I went down onto the porch to get a closer look at all the chaos (to my right), when a phalanx of heavy duty riot police marched past me from the left. A few cops stopped and took a good hard look at me before marching on, like they were trying to decide if they should club or mace me. The rioters had these great sounding tribal rhythms being bashed out on trash cans, it was like an early Test Dept. concert. But sadly, they could only stay in rhythm for about thirty seconds at a time. That was the soundtrack to a constant stream of beer bottles arcing into the air and crashing down onto the cops. Good times.
Great Ode to Alphabet City.
I worked in a record store at this time , and I always thought from what i head then and grafitti - that this riot was influenced by the Rodney King beating that happened a few months before. Anyone ?
The author is correct. It was just drunken meatheads that missed out on the first 2 "real" riots. The crowd was building all day around the band-shell and they wanted trouble.

The night of Rodney King beating I was walking home (4th st. & ave. C) from work and got punched in the head by a black guy for no reason. When I got home and my roommate showed me the beating on the news I understood why.

I have to say the crime was a pretty out of control. I got held up with both guns and a knife in 1990.
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