Tompkins riot vets not ready to keep quiet


By Lincoln Anderson

East Village activists will descend on City Hall’s steps on Thurs., April 3, at 3 p.m. to demand a permit to hold a weekend of hardcore punk concerts in Tompkins Square Park on Aug. 2-3 to mark the 20th anniversary of the park riots. They’ll also condemn what they claim is the city’s effort to install surveillance cameras in the park.

Local activist John Penley said the city’s Parks Department is saying the key anniversary weekend is a designated “quiet weekend,” meaning amplified sound won’t be allowed, meaning they can’t have their concert. Aug. 2-3 is the weekend that falls closest to Aug. 6, 1988, the date of the riots.

A fitting name for the hoped-for concert might be Radical Lawyerpalooza. It’s being organized by Assemble for Rights, a group of activist lawyers; and civil rights and radical attorneys are being lined up as speakers, including Norman Siegel, Ron Kuby and Stanley Cohen. Other speakers to be interspersed between sets by 1980s-style punk bands could reportedly include radical Reverend Frank Morales and East Village journalists Paul DeRienzo, Bill Weinberg and Sarah Ferguson.

“I’ve got half the neighborhood coming,” Penley said of the April 3 press conference. “It’s just to talk about the state of Tompkins Square Park and what we want to see happen with it in the future. We don’t ever want to see surveillance cameras in the park. And we don’t want to see it yuppified like the rest of the neighborhood. As the economy gets worse and worse, more people will depend on that park for recreational purposes, because they won’t be able to go out and pay for entertainment.

“The Parks Department and city have just decided what they think is best for the park, but they haven’t asked the neighborhood,” Penley continued. “Instead of worrying about not giving us permits, they should speed up their work on renovating the dog run and get that mess cleaned up pretty soon.”

Penley said at the rally David Peel will perform his songs, including “F Big Brother” and “Whose F’ing Park? Our F’ing Park!”

“He’s going to say ‘F,’ not ‘f—k,’ because it’s City Hall and he’s worried about getting jumped on by the cops,” Penley said. “It happened to him before in Washington.”

“There’s no set of quiet weekend dates. They’re just making them up as they go along,” scoffed Chris Flash, who is organizing a different punk concert for Tompkins Square Park this summer. “It’ll be the same as it is every year,” he said of the anniversary concert. “A couple hundred people show up, hear some music, disseminate political information.

“Community Affairs at the Ninth Precinct — Jaime Hernandez, Officer German — have known us for the past 20 years and they know that we always had an amiable relationship with them,” Flash added. “They’re good guys, they know us. The executive officer and the commanding officer at the Ninth Precinct rotate every couple of years — but these guys have always been here.”

Hoping to get their permit application in first, the organizers of the riot anniversary event applied at the start of the year, and so say Parks has no excuse not to give them the dates.

However, Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, initially said the days Aug. 2-3 were a no-go for punk concerts.

“The dates are available, but not for amplified sound,” Castro said. “It’s to give the community and parkgoers a break at parks where we have a lot of events,” he said of the quiet days. “It’s good policy; the community has approved it. I’ve heard nothing but support for it from the community.”

Asked what he meant by “the community,” Castro said, “people who have written us letters in the past.”

“We get complaints from people who live near the park about amplified sound,” he noted.

Castro said the department’s policy is to rotate weekends of amplified sound and no amplified sound. Asked if the quiet weekends and nonquiet weekends at Tompkins Square could just be flipped to accommodate the 20th anniversary of the riots concert, Castro said no. However, asked if an exception could be made for that weekend, he softened his position, saying, “I’ll take a look at it.”

“They have to make sure they come into the office and work it out,” he said of the applicants. “Come in and work it out — it’s better than on the phone.”

Castro said Parks has no vendetta against punk concerts and isn’t trying to cleanse the park of them.

As for the cameras, he said police have installed them around the perimeter of Central Park, such as on Central Park South.

“That’s the extent of what they’ve done so far,” he said.

Castro denied there are any plans to put surveillance cameras in any Downtown parks. He wouldn’t be specific when asked which other Manhattan parks might get the cameras.

“We’re looking at any areas that might make sense. There are a number that we might do,” he said. Crime is the main reason cameras would be installed, he said. “I know of no plans to put cameras in Tompkins Square Park at this time,” he stated.

Washington Square Park, long known as a spot for marijuana dealing, has had police surveillance cameras for 10 years.

Despite Castro’s statements about the cameras, Penley they’ll still be holding their press conference Thursday.

“We feel their plan is to eventually put in cameras,” he said.