[Photo by John Penley via the Tamiment Library]
By Felton Davis of the Catholic Worker
All night long, we kept vigil, while the huge quasi-military force gathered to clear the squats on East 13th Street.
At about midnight on May 29th, people brought in an over-turned car and filled it with gasoline. One match, or even a careless person with a cigarette, could light this up and create a fire that could spread to the buildings, and trap those who were barricaded inside, burning them to death. How would that help the cause of squatting? How would that help communicate to the public the enormous work that was done to fix up these buildings? Or was it just a desperate gesture, to let the clearing turn into "another Waco," after the fatal confrontation in Texas two years earlier?
The debate will still going on the next morning, when the police brought in a re-furbished military tank, even after most of the gasoline was drained out of the car. The driver sitting on top of the tank motioned the riot officers to get out of the way, because he did not want to stop for those in front of it.
I'm alive today because the officers blocked the tank and dragged us out of the way. The debate over this extreme confrontation, and the extreme tactics brought to bear, continued in Central Booking that night, and it continued in the court where Stanley Cohen represented us, and it continued in the street, as people tried to re-take those buildings, and the Giuliani administration flexed its muscle, and more squatted buildings were seized or bull-dozed by the city.
Thanks for those who kept their sanity during this frightening time, and did not condemn us to death by fire and conflagration. Thanks for the memories.
For further reading:
• The Squatters of East 13th Street
• Battle Over 13th Street
• Tank KO's the Squatters
Daily News, May 31, 1995
• Riot Police Remove 31 Squatters From Two East Village Buildings
The New York Times, May 31, 1995
• Squatters of 13th Street Vs. Power of City Hall; More Than a Symbolic Battle for Control
The New York Times, July 12, 1995