New York —

Those protests of the summer of 1943 left 5 dead and 500 wounded, but were concentrated in Harlem

Shreds on 5th Av and Broadway, Monday, June 1

Photo:
Andrés Correa Guatarasma / Courtesy

2020 continues to set dire records in New York, reliving misfortunes not seen in decades or ever: high mortality, pandemic, Metro closure, and now a curfew.

Since August 1943, almost 77 years ago, the city did not see a situation like the one decreed this Monday and currently in force until Sunday, June 7.

And although these 2020 looting has little to do with the legitimate protest over the death of the African American George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, it is striking that the chaos in 1943 also had a racial origin. But it only remained in one area, Harlem, unlike the current one, which applies to the entire city.

Then-Mayor “Progressive Republican” Fiorello LaGuardia – who would eventually be a legend in the city’s history – imposed an emergency curfew after the riots broke out in Harlem when a white cop shot a black soldier.

Although that soldier did not die, five people did die during subsequent protests. Also, there was 500 wounded and an estimated loss of $ 5 million dollars in property damage.

The bloody Harlem revolt began on August 1, 1943. “The widespread fighting, shooting and looting that Sunday night was triggered when a black soldier was shot in the shoulder by a police officer,” recalled The New York Times.

Although the riots spread throughout the western part of Harlem, they centered near the 123rd Street police station, where more than 100 people were detained for looting and vandalism.

During the days after the riots, 6 thousand police of the city patrolled the streets of Harlem. In addition, 1,500 civilian volunteers, most of them black, were armed with batons; and 8 thousand members of the National Guard of New York State remained quartered.

The curfew lasted four nights, in the quadrant between 110th and 155th Streets and 5th and St. Nicholas Avenues.

Before the 1943 riot, the worst in Harlem took place on March 19, 1935. One person was killed and 100 injured in a fight that erupted after reports circulated that a 16-year-old boy, caught stealing a razor, had been brutally beaten by the police. Hordes took to the streets and threw stones at police officers and shop windows.

Later in [1945 New York also had a curfew, but it was not due to riots, nor was it a local order, but a national one, which affected “places of public entertainment”, as a measure of fuel conservation.

On many more occasions the indomitable New York has rebelled in the streets. For example, in June 1969 there was a legendary revolt in Greenwich Village known as the uprising Stonewall, today a world reference in the rights of sexual diversity. But there was no curfew, as in the 1940s, during the Second World War.

Today, more than seven decades later, New York is back under a curfew and also suffering a pandemic and under criminal reform which has released thousands of prisoners and suspects.

That flammable combination predicts higher unemployment, recession and social tensions. And also, it is an electoral year. More drama, impossible.

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