Amid wailing sirens, glaring emergency lights and floodlit streets glittering with glass shards and other debris, the combatants formed, clashed, retreated and reformed a half-dozen times in what the police and protesters, blaming one another, called a riot. 'The Police Panicked'
Witnesses said protesters and bystanders alike were knocked to the ground, shoved into buildings and doorways and struck repeatedly with nightsticks by helmeted officers, some of whom shouted obscenities. People streaked with blood told of being attacked without provocation by officers.
"The police panicked and were beating up bystanders who had done nothing wrong and were just observing," said Allen Ginsburg, the poet, who lives in the area. He said a houseguest from Kansas was surrounded by six officers during one police charge and was beaten with clubs.
The police, however, said their actions were measured and justified. They said they only cleared the park, as ordered, dispersed people who were blocking the surrounding streets and used their clubs defensively when missiles were hurled at them.
From the New York Times:
Participants said a peaceful night in Tompkins Square became a free-for-all when the police knocked people to the ground and hit them with night sticks. But the police, asserting that they were responding to complaints of noise, said people in the park provoked the confrontation by hitting them with beer bottles. Five officers were treated for injuries, including cuts, a broken finger and torn ligaments, the police said.
Four men were arrested on charges including reckless endangerment and inciting to riot. Several of the participants were also treated for minor injuries, witnesses said.
From the New York Times:
Many questions remain unanswered, and police officials have refused to give more details until Mr. Ward holds a news conference this week.
But a review of nearly four hours of videotapes of the evening, made by a neighborhood resident and not previously seen by reporters or the police, together with accounts from a Times reporter and photographer on the scene and more than a score of witnesses provides new insights into that night. It clearly details cases in which officers wore no badges or hid their badge numbers, clubbed and kicked bystanders for no apparent reason and without arresting them, and streamed through the streets of the East Village in uncontrolled rage.
...and, the year after, from Neil Smith:
As the arena of struggle expanded to fill the Lower East Side, the park remained a contested zone. In the sharpest frost of the winter in December 1988, it hit the headlines again when an evictee froze to death on a park bench. Regular political rallies, speakouts, musical events, and spontaneous happenings secured the park's symbolism at the core of the loose housing, homeless and anti-gentrification coalition in the neighbourhood.
By July 1989, with a heightened police campaign against squatters now underway and meeting less organized resistance, the city felt emboldened enough to begin its own reconquest of Tompkins Square Park. Eleven months to the day after the riot, the main target was the forty to fifty structures comprising several shanty-towns and 'tent cities' in the park: 'the officers with riot equipment sealed off the park while park crews knocked down the shanties with sledgehammers and axes and threw debris, along with food, clothes and other belongings, into three garbage trucks'. More than 400 people, infiltrates by thirty plainclothes police who picked off thirty-one demonstrators for arrest, protested the destruction and eviction. Fearing a more violent response, the city allowed that evictees could sleep in the park as long as they did not construct any kind of shelter.
Any of this sound familiar?