City’s Anti-Homeless Sweeps Spark Spirited Tompkins Square Park Protest

Unhoused New Yorkers take the lead in speaking out against the brutality of being unhoused and the dangers of the shelter system that has failed them.

Amba Guerguerian Apr 11, 2022

This article is based on this reporter’s live coverage from Indy Twitter, as seen below.

On Friday afternoon, a group of  roughly 250 people rallied in Tompkins Square Park near the chess tables in the park’s southwest corner to protest Mayor Eric Adams evicting hundreds of homeless encampments across New York City. The group later marched to Washington Square Park, stopping first at 9th St. and Ave. B in the East Village where Anarchy Row, a tent encampment, was evicted on Thursday and seven people arrested. Now, those people have pitched tents half a block over on Ave B. between 7th and 8th streets, but fear another NYPD eviction looms. 

Before the group got on the move, speakers from a slew of groups led by Brooklyn Eviction Defense and Rent Refusers Network spoke in defense of unhoused New Yorkers and housing as the solution to homelessness. Sinthia Vee from the Tompkins Square Coalition, who has been homeless in the East Village for decades, shared some of the deep history of the park and surrounding area. “We are asking for one simple thing, our message is very clear: Housing is the solution to homelessness,” she said before stepping off the chess table-podium. 

Speakers faulted billionaires and the politicians and cops that keep them in this power at the solidarity protest demanding the city 1. STOP THE SWEEPS and 2. provide community-controlled housing to all New Yorkers. “I’m sick of the press cutting out our demands,” said Holden of Brooklyn Eviction Defense. Our houseless neighbors must be housed in homes, not shelters, the speakers said. Use the 250,000 empty apartments in NYC, they demanded. A common opinion was that the most overarching problem in the city is the trickle-up economy being solidified by cop-Mayor Eric Adams. 

In addition to calling out the super-rich, speakers focused on the import of consistent community building and organizing. That doesn’t always have to mean taking to the streets, though, they say. It can just mean consistently talking to your neighbors, sharing similar struggles and/or joining or forming a group that works to actualize people’s rights. 

Eric with the Lower East Side Squatters said, “New York hasn’t been real for a long time — and I mean a  long time! Now it looks like it might start getting real again. So as long as you guys keep coming back to wherever you go, week by week, week by week as the summer months are rolling on, roll out this movement into a mass movement!” As the crowd’s cheers simmered, he told participants about the privatization efforts the city began making in the 1970s (from which it hasn’t yet looked back). “In 1988, you had 200 people living here in perfectly good order, okay? Don’t let anybody lie to anybody. There were no riots unless there were police riots!” He added. 

Many speakers also pointed out from personal experience that shelters are inhumane, punitive and prison-like. Knife told the ralliers he checked himself into a shelter just to see how bad it was and left with lice and foot fungus three days later. “Eric Adams will always be a cop,” he said. He also called the mayor an “Uncle Tom” and asked reporters not to edit his words.

Gianni said he has recently been in a shelter with a lot of people on parole and that it’s really tough to “rehabilitate” in those spaces, because the prison mentality and template is continued through the shelter system. “Front desk is a front desk; anybody would call it a front desk. In the shelter, they call it a bubble. … a bubble is a jail term, you understand? That keeps you mentally incarcerated. How the fuck you gonna get the help you need?” He said. 

Sayquan 60, a community organizer from the Bronx, explained what being on Rikers, even for a few days, will do to your mind. “I still don’t sleep,” he says, making the connection that as the city evicts and criminalizes more people, jails fill up.

Justine spoke about being a homeless trans woman of color and said that every time she’s been beaten down, her community has been there to pick her back up. “I’m here no matter fucking what because I know I got a big mother fucking community out here to stand with me. If I get arrested, if I get brutally beaten again … I’m not scared,” she said.” 

The Joker, a regular at Tompkins, explained to the crowd that when these sweeps happen, peoples’ most precious keepsakes are thrown out. 

“He’s working for his donors right now,” said Tupac of ICE Watch NYC of Eric Adams. He’s not doing it to help homeless people. He’s not doing it to help non-homeless people. He’s doing it because his donors are telling him to.” He commended all of the community groups that have sprung up since the George Floyd protests. “We’re laying the groundwork towards a stronger movement,” he said “The lull is over, the wave is here, the uprising is back,” he said.

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