Puerto Ricans Riots: East New York 1966

Clashes between African-American and white youth, and later, between African-Americans and Puerto Ricans in East New York in the summer of 1966 turned quickly into battles against the police. After a series of nightly confrontations between Puerto Rican and Black youth in July, Mayor Lindsay met with fifty community leaders who promised to help keep the neighborhood cool and calm in “the racially tense half square mile area." After the events of the previous evening, a massive police presence in the neighborhood streets was accompanied by ministers, officials from local anti-poverty programs and community relations officers who attempted to mediate among the “dissidents”--a reference to more militant leaders. The Police Commissioner patrolled the area and thanked parents for keeping their kids at home. Friday night and early Saturday morning, five people were arrested and five injured in ongoing fights. Later 150 police officers gathered for eight hours to quell an angry crowd, urging pedestrians to stay off the streets and move quickly whenever they felt a crowd would form. At one building, police dispersed a crowd as shots were fired, Molotov cocktails and bricks thrown at the police. These ongoing conflicts also included white gang members. In one building, black residents feared attacks from white gangs and reported that: ”whites drive by that point their fingers like pistols and they holler bang bang, nigger your dead and clear the streets niggers.”

Police and youth workers continued to disperse crowds whenever they formed, and molotov cocktails were occasionally thrown. Over the weekend, at least 1000 extra police were deployed to the area, including 350 members of the elite tactical patrol force and a squad of mounted patrolmen. Bottles, bricks, firebombs, chases, rooftop pursuits, flying broken glass, false fire alarms. All part of the scene but no looting took place. On Sunday quiet prevailed.[4]

We don't know what triggered these confrontations or how they related to further clashes in the 1960s. Certainly, this story demonstrates the complex layers to these confrontations but also signals a transition from conflict centered on inter-youth issues to police-youth confrontations.

Brooklyn map newyorktime 1966


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[4] The New York Times, 24 July1966, 25 July 1966; El Tiempo, 20 July 1966.