On the evening of August 6, 1930, Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith and James Cameron were arrested for the murder of one Claude Deeter and the rape of his girlfriend, Mary Ball, in Marion, Indiana. Shipp, Smith and Cameron were all black, while Deeter and Ball were white.
Before dawn the next day, a large crowd gathered. Breaking into the cells where they were held, they dragged the three men outside, where Shipp and Smith were lynched (Cameron was able to flee after some members of the mob pronounced him innocent). A photographer named Lawrence Beitler took a photograph of the scene, including two dead men still hanging from their nooses, which sold thousands of copies and became an iconic image of racial injustice.
Ball later stated that she had not been raped by anyone; Cameron stated that Shipp and Smith were guilty of Deeter’s murder.
The Tompkins Square Park, by the late eighties, had become overrun by “drug pushers, homeless people and young people known as ‘skinheads'”. The Manhattan Community Board 3, the area’s local governing body, introduced a 1 a.m. curfew for the previously 24-hour park. On July 31, 1988, a protest rally against the curfew saw several clashes between protesters and police. A second rally was was scheduled for August 6.
At this second rally, the police charged the crowd of protesters, and a riot swiftly ensued, with bystanders, activists, police officers, neighborhood residents and journalists were caught up in the violence.
The neighborhood, previously divided over how to deal with the park, was near unanimous in its condemnation of the heavy-handed actions of the police. More than a hundred complaints of police brutality were lodged following the riot. Much blame was laid on poor police handling, and the commander of the precinct in charge was deprived of office for a year.