--from the New York Times, May 9, 1970

Mayor Lindsay was furious.

On May 9, he called a press conference and issued a blistering statement criticizing the "failures of police performance" and calling for a thorough investigation of police response to the previous day's violence. Telegrams poured into City Hall, most condemning what one writer termed the "clear collusion" between "hard hat thugs and police."


Exerpts from the New York Times article:

While Police Commissioner Howard R. Leary sat grim-faced at his left, mayor Lindsay charged yesterday that New Yorkers had "witnessed a breakdown of the police as the barrier between them and wonton violence" on Friday.

He ordered Mr. Leary to conduct a "thorough investigation" of what he called "failures of police performance" when a band led by helmeted construction workers roamed lower manhattan on Friday, beating antiwar demonstrators and storming City Hall, forcing officials to lift the United States flag atop the building to full staff. Seventy persons, including four policement, were injured in the disorders.

The Mayor--angry over charges that the police had failed the marshal enough force to meet the mobs and that some policemen had been slow in guarding youngsters from the construction men--summoned the city's three top police officials to Gracie Mansion yesterday. . .

He ordered the following:

A "thorough investigation to fix responsibility at the command level" and "prompt disciplinary action" against those who failed to perform their duty, with the Commissioner to report back to him by Friday.

A request to the bar association for the creation of an "independent corps of civilian lawyers" to serve as "impartial observers" at demonstrations.

A "through review of police planning for protests and demonstrations."


In August, the police department issued a 45-page report on the police response to the violence on May 8. The report maintained that the police had been stretched thin covering demonstrations throughout the city that day, and that the crowds and difficulty in communication prevented an effective response at the scene.

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How did the police respond on May 8?

Witnesses disagree...

"What amazed me even more was a group of uniformed policemen, marching in rank peacefully across the street, not moving one inch towards the place of disturbance...Could somebody tell me why all this? Should the policeman in these circumstances, (like a doctor), put his political ideas aside and help his 'enemy' as well as his 'ally'?" (letter from Mrs. J. Sobon to President Mortola, Pace College).

"What I did see however was a policeman being assaulted on the steps of the treasury building...As the construction workers forced their way up the steps I saw them pick up a policeman who was in their way. The policeman had hesitated to use his club and as a result was tossed up over the heads of the workers." (letter from Michael Seltzer to President Mortola, Pace College).

"What upset me to the point of physical sickness was the fact that the police stood there and didn't even attempt to help the students...The rest of the police on duty stood there like tin soliders around the steps of City Hall watching - they appeared to be protecting the building from damage. While they were supposedly protecting City Hall, all the rioters were tearing up our campus and brutally beating the students." (letter from R.F. Spinelli to President Mortola, Pace College).

"As...an observer of the May 8th Wall Street student construction worker confrontation I was impressed with the fine job the police did under difficult circumstances. The extreme criticism of their actions was totally unwarranted." (telegram from Albert Freed, Jr. to Mayor Lindsay).

According to the media...

"...the police collaborated with the construction workers in the same way that Southern sheriffs used to collaborate with the rednecks when the rednecks were beating up freedom riders." (Pete Hamill, "Hard Hats and Cops," New York Post, May 12, 1970)

 

 

 

This photo appeared in the New York Daily News with the caption: "Trying to get at demonstrators on steps of Federal Hall Memorial, workers are shoved back by cops."

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Does the following information change the way you understand Mayor Lindsay's response?

* In 1968, a high-profile police corruption scandal rocked New York (a case later dramatized in the film Serpico). In June, 1970, Lindsay formed the Knapp Commission, which was charged with further investigating corruption in the New York City police department.

* Sporadic clashes between construction workers and antiwar protesters had taken place in the same area on Wednesday May 6 and Thursday May 7.

* The New York Times and other newspapers reported that the police department had received more than one telephone call prior to May 8 warning them of the impending violence.

* Throughout the week following the May 8 violence, construction workers and antiwar protesters continued their demonstrations in the financial district. There was little violence, though, primarily because an estimated 1,000 police officers were present.