News & Politics

When St. Mark’s Ran Red with Blood

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Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
October 10, 1968, Vol. XIII, No. 52

The Street is Bleeding: A Dead-End Pastime
by Steve Lerner

“Look, the street is bleeding,” some blonde chick shrills a little too hysterically to be credible. Any other night in Saint Mark’s such a remark would have passed virtually unnoticed in the cacophony of street theatre. Normally it would have been taken for just another acid head freaking on the way the sidewalks perspire, tripping on the bulging and contracting of the buildings as they breathe, grooving on the way their boy friend’s face was dividing into sections like a living Picasso.

But tonight everyone gathered around the spot where the girl was pointing. I didn’t have to look because I’d already seen it. There was a large puddle of blood and some of it had spread out across the sidewalk, seeping into the dirty creases in the pavement. Splotches of red wine splashed all the way to the curb. It was as if someone had stomped once too often, scrapped their heels across the concrete, dug the metal tip of their umbrella into the thick skin of the earth and left a puncture — and now the street was bleeding.

The battle for the streets which began in Chicago continues on a smaller scale in New York. Fighting which broke out between police and transients in Saint Mark’s Place last Wednesday night came as no shock to anyone. Everything seemed in place, everyone knew his role, everyone played his part. The police clubbed and arrested, the kids ran, screamed, threw bottles and obscenities. A few people bled.

Walking through the are around midnight, I reviewed the scenario which had started a little after 10 p.m. Fires still lit up every corner — trash cans, heaps of rubbish, an occasional mattress, and a tenement were still smoldering. My boots crunched broken glass to powder at every step. There was the smell of short circuits in the air. Police were everywhere. They seemed to have adopted a new method of crowd control, having abandoned the old strategy of police lines and direct confrontation for a saturation approach. The cops were finally getting sophisticated about dealing with mobs; instead of giving the demonstrators a line of blue to throw bottles at, they infiltrated the crowd in groups of twos and threes, keeping people moving and disorganized…

Occasionally the police “saturation tactic” has its drawbacks. A cop from the 13th precinct charges into an angry crowd trying to grab someone who has been passing out leaflets calling for a street rally the next day. The mob tightens up and the cop is swallowed. He strikes out at a few people near him, trips, falls, loses his cap, swears, and misses his prey. “Hey, they’re killing a cop up the block, they’re strangling him,” someone jeers at a policeman who is sitting in a patrol car parked several hundred feet from the melee. The siren snaps on and the car reverses up the street. People scatter in different directions leaving the cop standing there alone, lost, confused…

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]

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