On May 8, 1970, construction workers clashed with students and anti-war protesters in New York in what became known as the Hard Hat riot. But it's far from the only riot to ever happen in New York City (as I'm sure residents can attest to). Here are a few of them big enough to get their own titles.
The Hard Hat riot
It was four days after four students were fatally shot at Kent State and the country was in a state of unrest. In New York, several hundred protesters gathered at Broad and Wall Street to hold a vigil for the slain students. By noon, more than 1,000 people had gathered and the vigil had escalated to a rally, and about 200 construction workers had had enough. They made signs reading things like "America, Love it or Leave it" and got right up against the police line that separated them from the students. They obeyed it for a few minutes, but the tension got to be too much and the construction workers started chasing the students through the street, beating some of them severely with fists, clubs and crowbars. The construction worker mob fought their way into City Hall and demanded that the flag be raised to full mast again - it had been lowered to half mast to honor the dead at Kent State. Fearful of further damage from the mob, the Deputy Mayor ordered the flag to be raised. The riot eventually fizzled out on its own. Six arrests were made and more than 70 people were injured. When mayor John Lindsay accused the police of standing idly by and letting the riot happen, thousands and thousands (some reports claim up to 150,000 while others say only 60,000) of construction works and other blue-collar workers peacefully protested by marching through Manhattan on May 20. Photo via Five Feet of Fury
The Flour Riot of 1837
Picture the outrage that people experience every time the price of a barrel of gas goes up, then throw in extreme poverty and unemployment - up to a third of the working population was jobless. That's basically what happened in 1837 when the cost of flour went up from $5.62 a barrel to a whopping $12 a barrel. The price of everything was skyrocketing and it was sending people to the poorhouse. People organized and decided to meet at City Hall to rally against people who were price-gouging - everyone, they said, from landlords to flour merchants. Then someone started naming names - Eli Hart was allegedly hoarding flour, and the crowd was in the mood to do something about it. Hundreds of people stormed down Broadway to Washington Street and forced their way into the building. Attempts to control the mob were completely useless and the mayor ended up fleeing while the crowd tossed barrels of flour out of the windows so people could scoop it up in boxes and pails. The flour, it is said, was nearly a foot deep in the street. The riot only died out when backup police and militia arrived. By this time, Hart's flour had been cleaned out and the crowd had started to loot other flour dealers.
The Tompkins Square Riot
Apparently things weren't much better even 40 years later. On January 13, 1874, thousands of unemployed immigrant workers and Socialist obtained a permit to have a mass meeting in Tompkins Square. They wanted the mayor to establish a program that would create jobs. Despite having all of the legal papers necessary to hold the demonstration, the city decided that having thousands of upset people meet to discuss the mayor maybe wasn't the best idea and revoked the permit. It didn't matter: more than 7,000 people showed up the next day anyway. Police didn't give them a chance to have a peaceable meeting; they immediately dispersed the crowd by beating people with clubs. Samuel Gompers recorded the events and said that police on horseback were attacking anyone they could reach, even women and children. He called it "an orgy of brutality." Photo by R. Wampers
Tompkins Square Riot, Part Deux
More than 100 years later, there was more unrest in the East Village. Apparently Tompkins Square Park had become a haven for the homeless and "rowdy youth" and neighborhood residents were sick of it. The Community Board eventually decided that it would enact a 1 a.m. curfew to try to curb some of the late-night gatherings that were going on in the park. Some people definitely didn't support this decision, including anarchists who were protesting in defense of the homeless and some citizens who felt that the police were trying to take the park away from the public. A rally was organized for July 31, but the police were tipped off and a small riot occurred, resulting in four arrests and injuries to at least 10. Another rally was planned for August 6, and the police showed up in droves this time. A bloody riot ensured; a New York Times reporter referred to the place as a "bloody war zone." By dawn, more than 38 people were injured, nine people were arrested and six complaints of police brutality had been filed. Rightly so, it seems: it was later determined that the police charged the crowd unjustly. Allen Ginsberg said the police were beating up bystanders who weren't even involved and another witness said he saw a couple who merely came out of a grocery store get clubbed down for no apparent reason. One man trying simply to hail a taxi was beaten by an officer and the whole thing was caught on tape. Photo via Blog Blabbin
Harlem Riot of 1935
On March 19, 1935, a 16-year-old Puerto Rican kid was caught shoplifting a penknife worth 10 cents from a five-and-dime store across from the Apollo. He was caught by an employee at the store who threatened to take the kid down to the basement and "beat the hell out of him," so the kid bit the employee in the hand. The police were called and an ambulance showed up to treat the bite (which must have been a heck of a bite). Thanks to a woman who had witnessed the threat on the shoplifter, a crowd gathered outside of the building and assumed that the ambulance was for the shoplifter. When, by coincidence, a hearse parked outside of the store, the rumor started to swirl that the kid had been beaten to death. And thus started the first recorded race riot in Harlem's history. Things escalated so that by the early evening of the same day, the front window of the five-and-dime store had been shattered by rocks and looting started to happen in stores surrounding it. Stores in the area started to post signs stating that they employed all races, hoping to deflect some destruction. The rioting continued into the early morning, when the shoplifter was photographed standing next to a policeman so his picture could be circulated to convince the rioters that he was totally fine. Photo via BlackPast.org