July 29, 1966 – Three Faces Of Violence – The Fire This Time – Cities On The Verge – Past Daily Reference Room
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July 29, 1966 – July was a bad month for America. In reality, it would be the start of what became known as The Long Hot Summer, as the pattern of violence would be repeated over and over in cities throughout the country. In this year, the problems were triple-fold. With disturbances flaring up in Chicago, the Cleveland suburb of Hough and the Brooklyn section of New York.
First to go was Chicago, in what was known as the Division Street Riots. In 1966, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley declared the first week of June to be “Puerto Rican Week.” On June 12, 1966, Puerto Ricans celebrated the culmination of this week, and their first ethnic parade in downtown Chicago, held on June 11. In the evening, on Division Street in West Town and Humboldt Park, an altercation began between police and revelers near Damen Avenue and Division Street. Police alleged that Arcelis Cruz, a young Puerto Rican man, was armed and involved in a street fight. A white police officer, Thomas Munyon, shot Cruz in the leg. A large crowd gathered, and bystanders became involved. Some gathered to try to help Cruz, others to demonstrate against police violence. More police were called, with canine units. A police officer let a police dog bite a Puerto Rican man on the leg. The crowd of over 4,000 Puerto Ricans attacked the police with rocks, bottles, and cans, and smashed windows on police cars. The crowd overturned some police cars, and set fire to others. More police and canine units were called in, but the rioting continued for three days.
As the riot began, a local Spanish-language radio personality, Carlos Agrelot, was broadcasting live, describing the scene on Division Street. His coverage of the violence and protest attracted more people to the streets, even people from other neighborhoods.
On the second day of the riot, community organization leaders and clergymen organized a rally. At this rally, organizers urged the crowd of 3,000 Puerto Ricans to end the violence. The police department also ordered officers to de-escalate the conflict. However, after the rally, rioters threw bricks and rocks at police officers, and the riot continued. Rioters targeted white-owned businesses as they looted and burned property in the neighborhood.
Next to go was the Hough neighborhood in Cleveland: The Hough riots were riots in the predominantly African-American community of Hough (pronounced “Huff”) in Cleveland, Ohio, which took place from July 18 to 23, 1966. During the riots, four African Americans were killed and 50 people were injured. There were 275 arrests and numerous incidents of arson and firebombings. City officials at first blamed black nationalist and communist organizations for the riots, but historians generally dismiss these claims today, arguing that the cause of the Hough Riots were primarily poverty and racism. The riots caused rapid population loss and economic decline in the area, which lasted at least five decades after the riots.
And then came Brooklyn: though technically not full-scale riot, the disturbance in the New York neighborhood escalated to near-riot proportions. A crowd of 400 Negroes and Puerto Ricans threw bottles and ash-can covers at each other on the night of July 8th at a crowded intersection in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The disorder was quelled quickly, but not before a police sergeant was struck on the head by a bottle and an angry throng rocked a patrol car, attempting to turn it over. There were two arrests.
By 11 p.m. the four square blocks around the intersection of Throop Avenue and Hart Street were saturated with 100 policemen, many of them members of the elite Tactical Patrol Force. They had been called in from duty in Manhattan and the Bronx.
The disorder started, the police said, as an outgrowth of recent hostilities and skirmishes between Negroes and Puerto Ricans in the area. One resident, a Puerto Rican, said the fight started after a Puerto Rican boy called a Negro boy a “nigger.”
Needless to say, it was only the start of things – hearing and seeing riots unfold on our TV screens was an almost nightly occurrence in the later 60s – and just about every city in America got involved.
Here is a 20 minute documentary about the situation, as it was taking place on July 29, 1966 from NBC Radio.