--from the Wall Street Journal , May 11, 1970
The May 8 "hardhat riots" occurred right in the Wall Street Journal's backyard. The full text of that newspaper's article on the Monday after they took place appears below.
A bloody melee last Friday, in which construction workers rampaged over antiwar protesters to the cheers of businessmen and office workers, threatens to have designated the heart of New York's financial district as a battleground for extremists of both sides.
Even now it isn't fully clear what went wrong--whether there weren't enough police to maintain order or whether they let their own sympathies with the construction men outweigh their duties. What is known is that at least 300 helmeted workmen, some armed with lead pipes and crowbars, ranged freely through the financial district for almost three hours, attacking protesters and those who sought to help the injured.
"We came here to express our sympathy for those killed at Kent State and they attacked us with lead pipes wrapped in American flags," said Drew Lynch, a 19-year-old employee of the city's Human Resources Administration, who came away with a black eye and a split lip.
At Trinity Church, where volunteer doctors and medical students treated about 60 victims in a makeshift hospital at the head of Wall Street, the vicar, the Rev. Donald Woodward, locked the gates to prevent worker mobs from entering. The surly crowd ripped down a Red Cross banner and tried to remove the Episcopal Church flag.
In a week of nationwide protests, including a massive march on Washington, the incidents on Wall Street proved to be by far the bloodiest since four students were killed at Kent State University. And the Mayor's office, which branded Friday's melee on Wall Street as "a breakdown of the police as a barrier between (the people of New York) and wanton violence," is bracing for the prospect that inflamed tempers on both sides may draw battlers to the same site for another showdown today.
Late yesterday, city vans unloaded barricades in front of the Subtreasury Building and along Broad Street. One police official said they were "in anticipation" of a possible renewal of Friday's violence. The police department is girding for trouble, he said, with some patrolmen's days off being canceled and additional police being available for deployment. "I imagine we'll be overloaded with police" in the district, he commented.
In part, at any rate, the appearance of the construction workers on Friday had been anticipated. It was the third consecutive day that antiwar demonstrators had converged at the corner of Wall and Broad streets. On Thursday a group of the hard-hatted workers had stormed demonstrators ranks to retrieve American flags. On Friday one speaker advised the crowd that "if they come again, don't try to fight them. The police are here to protect us."
What followed, though, was far from expected. Just before noon, as lunch-time throngs started to clog the streets, workmen from downtown Manhattan building projects suddenly converged on the rally from four different directions. Police quickly headed off the laborers, and for a few minutes a thin cordon of patrolmen kept the rival groups apart. The students chanted, "Peace now," and the workers shouted back, "Love it or leave it." Urged on by watching businessmen, and with their ranks swelled by office workers, the construction men surged through police lines. With fists flying, they pummeled their way up the steps of the Subtreasury Building to raise a cluster of American flags on the statue of George Washington.
"Wow, it was just like John Wayne taking Iwo Jima," remarked Jack Friedman, a 32-year-old insurance underwriter watching the action.
As police sought to sweep the workers off the steps, the group turned and charged back into the crowd of protesters. In the panicky rush that followed, the construction workers chased fleeing demonstrators through the streets of the financial district. Those they caught, whether male or female, were beaten with whatever came to hand, including helmets and metal flag poles.
Stock market activity slowed to a crawl. Brokers, analysts, investors, and office help poured out of the buildings or clustered at windows to watch. After the initial foray, the construction workers regrouped to march first down Wall Street and then up lower Broadway. As they marched, they chanted "U.S.A., All the Way." Many in the dense crowds on the sidewalks cheered. From the windows of offices lining the street came streams of ticker-tape and data processing punch cards.
Later the workers stormed City Hall several blocks to the north, overwhelming police and forcing officials to raise to full-staff the American flag. It had been ordered to half-staff by Mayor John Lindsay in memory of the four slain Kent State University students. Still later, the workers invaded nearby Pace College, again attacking students.
Violence is no newcomer to Wall Street. In 1712, Negroes, who comprised about one fourth of the city's population at the time, clashed with police over repressive actions against them. About 20 persons were killed. In 1920, a massive explosion of unknown origin in front of what is now the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. building killed 30 and injured between 200 and 400 persons. And as recently as 1948, when 500 burly sailors joined the picket lines of men on strike against the New York Stock Exchange, countless fistfights broke out around the building.
But observers of last Friday's clashes say that violence set a new mark in its scope, the apparent high degree of coordination among the construction workers, and the support they got from many members of the white-collar business community.
One construction worker, who said his life would be in danger if he was identified, claimed the attack was organized by shop stewards with the support of some contractors. He said one contractor offered his men cash bonuses to join the fray.
"These are people I know well," he said. "They were nice, quiet guys until Friday. But I had to drag one fellow away from attacking several women. They became storm troopers." On Broadway, a burly workman slugged a booing young girl in the jaw, knocking her into the gutter. A gray-haired man in a three-piece business suit rushed forward to shake his hand. At the corner of Wall and William streets, a group of workmen trapped 24-year-old Alan Waldman, a demonstrator holding his hand in a V for peace sign, after a group of businessmen blocked his path to escape.
Michael Belknap, a 29-year-old lawyer with Sullivan & Cromwell, said he was knocked down and stomped by workers when he tried to help a bleeding youth. "Someone yelled, 'He's a Commie bastard, we ought to kill him,' and they ran over me," he says. "My back is covered with bootmarks."
Despite the scope of the violence only six arrests were made on Friday. Three men were charged with harassment, one with disorderly conduct and two with assault. Mayor Lindsay ordered full investigation and disciplinary action, and the New York Civil Liberties Union charged that "police stood around passively and, in some isntances, joined in the assaults."
"These hippies are getting what they deserve," said John Halloran, one of the construction workers, while the melee was still going on. As he talked a co-worker standing with him yelled, "Damn straight," and punched a young man in a business suit who said he disagreed.
Said George Tangel, a 35-year-old construction worker with an American flag decal on his hard hat: "I'm doing this because my brother got wounded in Vietnam, and I think this will help our boys over there by pulling this country together."