Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tompkins Square Park

As I mentioned in my last post the epicenter of Alphabet City was Tompkins Square Park. I would say the hands down scariest moment in my life happened there when I was about 14 or 15 years old. My friends were over at my house and we decided to head over the park to to hang out. When we arrived there was a demonstration going on on Avenue A, protesting the removal of the shantytown/homeless village that was in existence in the park at the time. At the time it was really a contentious issue--especially since most of the people in the neighborhood were living in poverty and the area housed a lot of anarchistic anti-goverment organizations. It was a really hot night and as I have mentioned in previous posts, there was a pretty violent and dangerous energy downtown in those days. The combination of all of these factors led to one of the most dramatic and frightening moments I have ever experienced.

As we walked up towards the park it became pretty evident that things had gone seriously awry. People were runnning and screaming, cops on horses were bearing down on us from every direction and I saw a cop grab a guy walking out of the Odessa and start beating him over the head for no reason. I stood there completely horrified and then suddenly realized that pretty much anyone who was standing in the street was a target. I took off and started running down Avenue A only to be met by a phalanx of cops on horses coming straight at me. It seemed like every where I turned there were cops in riot gear and all they cared about was potentially beating the shit out of me or someone near me.

After a few minutes there were helicopters with spotlights all over the place and I can honestly never say that I have never felt so close to dying as I did in that half hour--it felt quite literally like a warzone. The scariest realization was that you were running for your life (or at least it felt like it) and the enemy was the police. Meaning that you were completely on your own -- there wasn't some benevolent authority that was going to sweep in and make everything okay. Eventually I made my way to 9th Street to a club called the Aztec where I hung out regularly, which was just off of Avenue A. I banged on the door and finally Charlie the bouncer opened the door and yanked me inside. We hunkered down in the club and occasionally Charlie would pull other regulars looking for refuge inside. I was surrounded by a bunch of young punk rock kids, some of whom had been beaten, bleeding from the head. We were all pretty dazed. The whole situation seemed surreal. The entire East Side had been taken over by cops, from Houston all the way to 10th Street, and that section of the city had literally become a mini-police state.

In the end, over 100 complaints of police brutality were filed. As far as I know only a few officers were ever disciplined. This is one of those experiences I haven't really thought about in years, but it definitely shaped the way I view a lot of things, including authority figures in general.

You can listen to a recording from that night below (if you listen to this, it's worth listening to the whole thing so you can hear the escalation of events--it's only 2-3 minutes):

Audio Recording of the Tompkins Square Riots.

There's also a pretty comprehensive explanation of what took place and the aftermath here.

I feel like this post is pretty depressing. I will try to come up with something more upbeat for tomorrow.


Blogger Brianna Jacobson said...

Rachael, your life is like RENT, but without the AIDS.

9:34 AM  

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