Tompkins Square Park Riot of 1988

Nearly thirty years ago, on Saturday, August 6th, 1988, a full-blown riot had broken out at Tompkins Square Park.

In the 80’s, Tompkins Square Park had built a reputation for itself fueled by controversy. The park had become the embodiment of New York City’s socioeconomic problems and the widening class gap. New York City was finally overcoming the economic slump of the 1970’s and the East Village was in the early phases of (dun-dun-dunnnn) gentrification. The city recognized the economic potential in demolishing low-income housing to make way for streamlined, luxury condos, and private real estate companies could jack up the rent in a neighborhood with little to no interference from the city government. This overwhelming influx of people moving to the East Village only served to increase economic inequality between the classes.

In the months leading up to the riot of 1988, over 150 homeless people called Tompkins Square Park their home. The park was notorious for drug distribution and use (particularly heroin), and residents in the neighborhood complained about all-night street parties, blaring rock music, and anarchic camaraderie. Many residents felt threatened by the increasing presence of the homeless in their neighborhood, deeming the park unsafe. Tompkins Square Park had become a de facto homeless shelter and gathering place for the New Yorkers who were left homeless and excluded from the city’s vision for a greater New York.

New York City Parks Department imposed a 1 a.m. curfew on the previously 24-hour Tompkins Square Park in an attempt to restore order in the tent city. The curfew only increased the tension between the neighboring residents and the squatters who made the park their home. After a July 31 protest was interrupted by police, community organizers planned another rally for August 6. On a humid August night, hundreds of protestors gathered in Tompkins Square Park to resist the curfew and closure of the park, marching and waving banners proclaiming “GENTRIFICATION IS CLASS WARFARE.”

It’s unclear what exactly incited the riot. Protestors blocked traffic and some hurled bottles and bricks at police officers. Police Captain Gerald McNamara called for reinforcements and Emergency Service units, then ordered officers to surround the park and warn pedestrians to not walk on the streets. About 400 police officers arrived. The New York Times reported that after hemming in the demonstrators in the park, police officers charged at the crowd. As people ran and scattered, officers chased the protestors on foot and on horseback. Many of the officers concealed their badges to protect their identities as they indiscriminately clubbed and beat protestors and uninvolved bystanders without arrest. Tompkins Square Park had erupted into a full-out brawl between protestors and riot police, and didn’t stop until 6 a.m. the next morning.

Much of the violence was documented on video, and news outlets aired the shocking police brutality that transpired on the night of August 6th, 1988. 44 people, 13 of them being police officers, suffered injuries “from bruises to gashed heads to a severed finger,” The New York Times reported. Nine arrests were made. The New York City Police Department and media outlets were ubiquitous in their statements that the NYPD was responsible for inciting the Tompkins Square Park riot of 1988, but no police officers were indicted or found responsible in their violent response to the demonstrators. The New York City government eventually destroyed the homeless encampments in Tompkins Square Park in 1991. The park closed from 1991 to 1992 for restoration, even though the underlying reasons were to ease the tensions in the area and keep homeless people out of the park.

Since the nineties, increasing gentrification of the East Village and the enforcement of the curfew changed not only the landscape of the neighborhood, but the overall character and reputation of Tompkins Square Park as well. The following photos (captured by Q. Sakamaki) of the Tompkins Square Riot are to remind us of the police brutality that ensued on that August night nearly thirty years ago, and the increasing gap between the social classes that our city will have to confront.

Tompkins Square Library

On the North end of Tompkins Square park is a small three floor branch of the New York Public Library. The Tompkins Square Library first opened its doors in 1904. Here residents of the East Village can not only take advantage of the library’s collection but the number of events that they host. In these events are free English classes to help non-native speakers improve upon their English skills. These skills include speaking, writing and reading. 

“We hold these sessions about three or four times a year,” says library manager Corinne Neary. Each session is open to about 100 students. “This has always been one of our most popular classes but the demand has seemed to increase, says Neary, “A lot of students refer their friends and family who they know could also benefit.”

Neary also pointed out that the demographic of the classes is very diverse. “We do not require documentation to take the class nor a specific reason,” says Neary. Some students have shared with her that they just want to be able to fit in better while some have mentioned practicing for citizenship and other various immigration reasons.  

The classes typically run for a 10-week period and meet twice a week. The curriculum of each class does change slightly based on the students, as Neary pointed out.  “We do this as a service to our students, first and foremost,” she says, “Because the classes are free we see fit to tailor them to the students at the time.”  

Neary cites this as a reason why the classes have been a success. Students are able to learn in a non-intimidating environment a skill that they can put to great use in their everyday life. Moreover, different students may have different stakes in why they are coming to the classes. It is refreshing to see a neighborhood resource that is free for patrons who may be in need. The lack of questions about their intentions also creates a safe, welcoming environment.
The next session of classes will begin on April 24, 2017 and run through June 30, 2017 for their denoted Spring 2017 session. As for the rest of the year the library is also hosting sessions in the Summer and Fall that are already scheduled.

The Horus Café on A

The Horus Café transforms from a breakfast spot during the day into a hookah lounge with a belly dancer at night.

With a website littered with spelling errors and lacking any real information, the Horus Café on A doesn’t create a staggering first impression. The small location placed on 10 Street between Avenue A and B can be easily overlooked. However, it’s the dynamic that varies between day and night that makes this spot noteworthy.

“It’s pretty uneventful here during the day,” Cindy Barretti, 34, said.

Barretti comes to the Horus Café on A on Thursday evenings with her girlfriends for a night out. She gushes about the hummus, hookah and belly dancer that make an appearance. According to her, the Café has a completely different atmosphere during the night hours.

At 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, not much is happening. There are two other tables occupied; everyone attentively chipping away at their food. The waitress returns to refill my water glass, I smile at her pleasantly, pay the bill and leave. I plan on returning later that night.

There are few restaurant locations that can undergo a complete transformation from day to night and draw a totally different crowd and atmosphere. The Horus Café on A fits the bill.

“You’re in for a real treat later,” my waiter said as he seated me at 10:30 p.m.

My friends and I look around and stunned because it was as if I was in an entirely new restaurant. The lights were dimmed, the music was blaring and smoke encompassed the entire space. This modest breakfast spot has transformed into a captivating hookah bar.

Drinks are flowing and our party is enjoying the hookah. As the night presses on, the crowd doesn’t start to thin out. People continue to pile in, and as one table finishes up, another group is quickly seated.

This pattern continues until everyone turns his or her attention to the mesmerizing and mystifying image in the corner. It’s a belly dancer, in the middle of a breakfast joint turned hookah lounge on 10 Street- certainly an interesting concept.

She twirls and sways to the thunderous music and soon enough a man from a neighboring table joins her. They awkwardly dance together as the crowd cheers them on. After he’s had his fix, he returns to his seat and resumes drinking his drink. The belly dancer, a truly entrancing sight, entertains the crowd and eventually disappears after some time.

The Horus Café is open until 4 a.m. but we start winding down around 1:30. We say our goodbyes and part ways.

The waiter from earlier had a point; I didn’t realize the full extent of the interesting night that lied ahead. Not many hookah bars bring in a belly dancer, let alone completely transform from a breakfast spot. The ability to execute both is what is so intriguing about this location.

There are loyal customers, like Barretti, who return for the exciting night that is guaranteed. This small gem may be unassuming by day, but by night, it is as enthralling as ever.

The Blind Barber

The East Village is full of cool and unique bars. There are bars with trendy décor and drink names, bars with secret entrances and incredible food. There are bars in the East Village with fun music and themes, and there are bars in the East Village with a barber shop in the back.

The black and white tile in the Blind Barber complimented with red, black and white seating indicated a retro vibe even before the weekend bar-goers flood in. The brown leather coaches provide comfortable seating for those who would like to have a quiet conversation with their pals and a drink.

I walked into the bar located closer to avenue B at 5:30 pm on a Thursday and made my way to the bar. The stools stood lonely as they braced for the incoming traffic of the local business men and women after a long day at work. The man standing behind the bar was exactly who I would have pictured in this type of place- a younger gentleman with hipster glasses and a mustache. Through the glass looking into the barber shop I could notice an older man getting his hair cut while sipping on some sort of whiskey drink.

While most cocktails are over $10, each $40 haircut and $30 shave comes with a drink as well. “We get a lot of younger and older folk coming in here to kill two birds with one stone,” said Adam Kirsch, the barman, “It’s mindless to get a haircut while out having a drink. And it is a lot nicer than going out with the sole intention of getting a trim.” However, there are perils to working so closely to an intoxicated man’s head when the work includes such a sharp object.

“I didn’t work at the Blind Barber for a long time,” said Rudy Millan, on why he loves working at three seats, a barber/coffee shop combination. “I much prefer the conversations I can have with my relaxed clients who are not moving their heads around every couple of seconds.”

However, the combination of a buzz cut and a cocktail provides the perfect atmosphere to relax for some. The ambiance that comes with the calmness of a cocktail and prestige of getting a haircut at a barbershop as opposed to “that dude on the corner of my block” is one that has a special power to put the mind at ease.

It’s hard to fit a haircut into the day sometimes. The Blind Barber provides bar-goers with a chance to relax and enjoy their rum and cokes while defusing from a long work day or week.