Clayton Patterson’s life changed dramatically on the night of August 6-7, 1988 when he gained notoriety for videotaping the Tompkins Square Park police riot in which the NYPD violently clashed with protesters and park dwellers until the sun came up the next day. In what was the first of many legal cases for Patterson concerning artists’ rights to their work and freedom of expression, he was arrested and jailed for refusing to give up his tape which is the only concrete account of what really happened that night.
The actions of officers against neighborhood residents, homeless individuals, affordable housing advocates, anarchists, squatters, and others resulted in the filing of over 100 complaints of police brutality. This footage was important evidence in the investigations and legal proceedings that followed, and several officers were disciplined or criminally indicted. The city also paid an estimated $2-3 million in settlements to the injured.
Despite the tape’s infamy, few have ever actually seen it…especially in its entirety. Here, on the 25th anniversary of its creation, we’re going to change that.
Clayton Patterson will be in person to present the screening! | Special thanks to Kyle Aviles Timlin.
Anthology Film Archives is an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video, with a particular focus on independent, experimental, and avant-garde cinema.
Founded in 1969 by Jonas Mekas, Jerome Hill, P. Adams Sitney, Peter Kubelka, and Stan Brakhage, Anthology in its original conception was a showcase for the Essential Cinema Repertory collection. An ambitious attempt to define the art of cinema by means of a selection of films which would screen continuously, the Essential Cinema collection was intended to encourage the study of the medium’s masterworks as works of art rather than disposable entertainment, making Anthology the first museum devoted to film as an art form. The project was never completed, but even in its unfinished state it represented an uncompromising critical overview of cinema’s history, and remains a crucial part of Anthology’s exhibition program.
In the decades since its founding, Anthology has grown far beyond its original concept to encompass film preservation; the formation of a reference library containing the world’s largest collection of books, periodicals, stills, and other paper materials related to avant-garde cinema; and a remarkably innovative and eclectic film exhibition program. Anthology screens more than 900 programs annually, preserves an average of 25 films per year (with 800 works preserved to date), publishes books and DVDs, and hosts numerous scholars and researchers.
Fueled by the conviction that the index of a culture’s health and vibrancy lies largely in its margins, in those works of art that are created outside the commercial mainstream, Anthology strives to advance the cause and protect the heritage of a kind of cinema that is in particular danger of being lost, overlooked, or ignored.
Relive the Tompkins Square Park Riots In Their Bloody Entirety
25 Years Later
Publised in: BEDFORD + BOWERY, New York, on July 17, 2013
Southerners have their Civil War reenactments but what do East Villagers have when it comes to reliving their defining battle? Just the annual Tompkins Square Park Riot reunion shows. But this year, on the 25th anniversary of that tumultuous night when cops went gonzo on a group protesting the park curfew (resulting in over 100 complaints of brutality), they’re getting much, much more.
Clayton Patterson, the Lower East Side documentarian/curator/artist/editor/historian/Bad Santa, writes in to tell us he’ll be screening his 3-plus hours of raw footage of the riot. (How did he film for that long without his iPhone battery dying, you ask? Well, first off, this was 1988 — way before iPhones. And second off, his wife Elsa Rensaa made charging runs while he filmed. If you haven’t seen “Captured,” the great documentary about this, watch it now.)
Patterson, who was arrested for failing to turn his footage over to authorities, will present the screening at Anthology Film Archives on August 6. If you’re prone to motion sickness, you may want to instead attend an August 8 screening, at the New Museum Theater, of some of Patterson’s documentary work — it’ll include shorter clips from his riot reel and a discussion with the man himself.
So what about those riot reunion shows? Well, they’re happening on July 28, and August 3 and 4. Expect the usual lineup of dubiously named bands (Transgendered Jesus, Sexual Suicide), bigger acts (David Peel, Reagan Youth), and appearances by counterculture legends like Norman Siegel, Ron Kuby, Penny Arcade, Jennifer Blowdryer, and at least one pie-hurling yippie.
This year, as you can see from the event page, there will also be after parties, films screenings, and a panel discussion.
Given current events, the whole shebang couldn’t be better timed.
Crackup at the Riots: 10 Laughs From the ’88 Tompkins Square Park Riot
Published in: BEDFORD + BOWERY, New York, on August 7, 2013
A slew of East Villagers — including poet Bob Holman and Times writer Colin Moynihan — shuffled into Anthology Film Archives last night to watch Clayton Patterson’s 3.5 hours of footage of the Tompkins Square Police riot, on its 25th anniversary.
Patterson introduced the rarely screened footage by saying the all-night riot (more of a stand-off or a shitshow, really) between park-goers and cops attempting to enforce a curfew represented "the beginning of the whole militarization of the police" that started in earnest during the Dinkins era. "In 1988 they couldn’t close a 10.5 square acre park in the Lower East Side," he pointed out. "In 2001 they could close the whole city in 2 hours – bridges, airports, subways, tunnels, all of it. And it started from here."
So yes, his Panasonic AG-155 footage is an important historical document, featuring cameos from East Village fixtures like Chris Flash, Jerry the Peddler and Father Pat, who scolds Patterson for filming an injured woman against her wishes. That incident might just be the most interesting thing in the film — especially when a neighborhood kid tells Patterson he’s gotten enough footage. "You never have enough," Patterson insists, saying it’s the only way police will ever believe a Puerto Rican from Avenue D, and asking him, "What are you going to do if you don’t have pictures?" (Patterson later refused to turn over his tapes to authorities because he didn’t trust them to do anything, he said.)
But the video also serves as a pretty great lookbook of the era: during the lulls in bottle heaving and baton twirling, one can’t help but ogle all the acid-wash cut-off shorts, perms, Fear t-shirts, and spiked mohawks (not to mention the long-gone Tompkins Square Park bandshell, which drew nostalgic applause when it first came into view).
And as it turns out, the footage — when not focused on gaping head wounds — was also good for some chuckles. Here now are the things that caused everyone to look back and laugh.
1.“This is kind of boring, actually.”
Sometime after 10 p.m. a bystander complains that “everyone’s just standing around. The cops are doing nothing.” Indeed, a lot of the footage consisted of people just standing around in chunky white Reeboks, swigging out of open containers and yelling, “Our fucking park!” After 1 a.m., though, the cops begin clearing out the park and things get real. Patterson has some advice for a pet owner: “Get your dog out of here, man – they’ll shoot him.”
2. The F.U. shirts.
Shortly after 3 a.m. a few dozen people sit down in the middle of Avenue A, facing off against a human barricade of cops. Two of the pavement squatters are wearing t-shirts that say simply “FUCK YOU.” Snazzy! The group proceeds to warble “This Land Is Your Land” and the national anthem.
3. Real Men Don’t Cook Quiche
During a lull in the action, Clayton inspects a hardcover copy of the 1982 bestseller. Didn’t see this one in the People’s Library…
4. “My brother’s a fucking cop; I hate him, too. You’re all fucked up.”
5. “You got a press card? Then why you taking pictures?”
In a moment that smacks of Occupy Wall Street, a cop tells Patterson that it’s illegal to film. Patterson bluntly informs him otherwise. (One thing we learned about NYPD cops in 1988 – most of them sported immaculately groomed ‘staches, and their primary method of crowd control was bellowing “Get aatta hea!” in a Long Island accent. Well, that and occasionally shoving unarmed women to the ground.)
6. “What you did to me was the same Nazi shit you’re complaining to them about.”
This line didn’t get a laugh, but it’s worth mentioning: Patterson says it when he recognizes a bearded dude in an “End Apartheid” shirt who, some months earlier, had chased him out of Central Park for supposedly bootlegging a band’s performance. The guy is sheepishly apologetic, but it’s around this point in the morning that the stand-off against the police degenerates into a mind-numbing mess of in-fighting and cross-talk.
7. “Unless you’re drinking bottles, don’t throw them.”
What the guy meant to slur was “no bottles!”, which is what the cooler heads had started calling out in order to discourage their comrades from dropping airmail on the po po. Didn’t come out right.
8. “Can we make it Wednesday instead of Thursday?”
Eventually, with the help of a priest, a neighborhood woman approaches a sergeant to propose a stand-down in return for a later meeting about the park. Instead of giving her the cold shoulder (or a bloody shoulder), the cop proves instantly amiable and amenable, though Wednesday works better for him than Thursday. Ah, the absurdity of a violent, hours-long stand-off coming down to a polite conversation about scheduling. Unfortunately, when the woman tries to announce that everything’s cool and everyone can go home, she’s drowned out by boos and whistles from her own people, and the voice of reason is soon screeching, “Be quiet! Shut the fuck up!” More laughs from the audience.
9. “Why don’t you work that crowd and get them dispersed?”
An imposing, Gandolfini-esque police higher-up calmly tells this to one of the protesters toward the end of it all, when cops are clearly ready to call it a night — even though there’s still a bonfire raging in the middle of Avenue A. After everything that had just gone down, this guy was now outsourcing crowd control to the crowd?
10. “If the cops aren’t here they won’t have people to throw bottles at.”
While everyone is yelling at the cops to “go home!”, one man tries to appeal to them with logic.
11. “Clean up your stupid horseshit, guys!”
Biggest laugh of the night. As the sun rises and cops leave the park, a small group pours in only to be greeted with a big ol’ pile of police-horse plop. Whatever – the people have the last say, as they head over to the Christodora condos to mess up the lobby while chanting “Die yuppie scum!”
Anonymous said on August 5, 2013 at 4:33 PM | I do want to see the film but 213 minutes? I hate that I'm too old to be able to sit through it.
Anonymous said on August 5, 2013 at 4:38 PM | The need to turn a rowdy night into a lifelong obsession and a holy day of sorts reflects the lack of any real complaints or for that matter purpose in the acolytes. Yes I was here for it, 2 blocks away drinking vodka on 5th street, missed the initial rush, was around for the peripherals. Sure the cops went over the edge, provoked to no end but still not the right move, remember back then this was a hated tour so the lowest seniority cops got stuck with it. So the kids in uniform let loose on the kids not in uniform, we all get it, got it, saw it. Hardly a lifelong cause. Correct me if I am wrong, was anyone even really badly injured, or bunches of bruises and bumps, street fighting stuff. Even as an old skool guy, that park was disgusting, people had loud drunk attitudes full time, and many did well to take a kick in the ass or punch in the nose. Haters please proceed.
ewingweb said on August 5, 2013 at 6:36 PM | I've got a 213 minute movie of this guy drinking vodka on 5th street during the riot if anyone's interested.
Ken from Ken's Kitchen said on August 5, 2013 at 6:52 PM | Ha ha, ewingweb!
Anonymous said on August 5, 2013 at 6:56 PM | Ewing this is me above checking in again, you have a very boring bit of film on your hands. A very handsome star tho.
Anonymous said on August 5, 2013 at 10:36 PM | I agree 213 minutes is too long. Is every moment necessary to experience? Every "So, where should we go next?" and "I'm almost out of tape."?
LUfromUNION said on August 6, 2013 at 1:59 AM | I don't think its as much about the.police brutality, as much as the police' behavior was symbolic of the coming war on poor people in the area. And that's what makes it a significant and symbolic moment, worth remembering.
Anonymous said on August 7, 2013 at 2:30 PM | tried to watch last night! I left an hour in feeling seasick!
nygrump said on August 7, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Yes people were injured by the cops. A friend went to the hospital with a concussion. She later got 25K for walking out of a club and being bashed by Law Enforcement. Tat guy Kramer from Letch Patrol was able to open a book store on 2dn ave from his payout after being attacked. You may also have forgotten these were the coke cops, protecting drug dealers and who knows what else. 4:38, tompkins was fucking the end of the world, $5 crack whores if you felt like getting a blow job in a cardboard box in the bandshell, but that has nothing to do with the cops rioting and assaulting citizens simply engaged in legal business. And what about covering up the badges - thats just lawlessness.
Anonymous said on August 9, 2013 at 11:30 AM | What's funny, is that there really was no 'riot'. Unless you count what the police did as a 'riot'. But then you'd have to call it a "police riot". And somehow, I have a feeling, using that term, those tiles wouldn't last very long.