The summer of 1964 was both a triumphant and turbulent time for Black America. Just two weeks after the Civil Rights Act was enacted, a race riot erupted in Harlem, spreading over to Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
On July 16, 1964, a white off-duty NYPD officer shot and killed 15-year-old James Powell. Residents in Harlem believed that the officer could have used restraint in the matter, leading them to peacefully protest but the gatherings took a violent turn on July 18th. That day, a group of protesters demanding the firing of the officer gathered at the Harlem police station, which turned into fighting between the group and the officers.
It was said that some protesters flung bricks at the officers guarding the building, with other reports stating that officers moved into the crowd with their Billy clubs extended. Images from the protests and riots highlighted that many Black residents were retreating from the actions of the police.
The riots lasted six days. News of the fighting spread to Bed-Stuy, a largely Black and Puerto Rican neighborhood and they too started an uprising. In the end, one Black person was killed, over 100 people were injured, and around 450 arrests occurred along with $1 million in damages.
The Harlem and Brooklyn riots were just the first of many to take place in major cities across the country that year, which included Philadelphia, Chicago, and Jersey City, moving some historians to dub it the first “Long, Hot Summer.”
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