Police, residents face off in N.Y. streets over death of civilian

July 08, 1992|By James Dao | James Dao,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- City political and religious leaders issued passionate calls for peace in Washington Heights yesterday as groups of angry protesters engaged in brief street skirmishes with police.

The pleas for calm came with hundreds of additional police officers flooding the upper Manhattan neighborhood that has been the scene of intense and sporadic violence over the last three days.

In a dramatic overture, Mayor David N. Dinkins made his second visit to the neighborhood in as many days, mixing a highly personal appeal for peace with a sharp condemnation of violence. But unlike Monday, when his pleas went largely unheeded, he was joined by Cardinal John O'Connor and leaders of the largely Dominican community.

At City Hall, there was a sense of crisis. With the Democratic political convention just several days away, the continuing flare-ups attracted not only intense local scrutiny but national attention as well.

Speaking in Manhattan at a political rally for Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, Vice President Dan Quayle said of the rioting: "Once again, it must be said: Whatever the possible provocation, violence is never an answer, and its perpetrators must be held accountable."

By 11 p.m., the streets were mostly quiet as several hundred people milled about under the watchful eye of even more police officers. The uneasy calm fell after the police, responding more aggressively than the night before, ran protesters off, making 18 arrests, most for disorderly conduct.

The violence, which came as a surprise in a city that had avoided similar outbreaks following the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial in Los Angeles, was prompted by the killing of Jose Garcia by the police Friday night.

The incident generated starkly different accounts of how Mr. Garcia was killed.

Police say Officer Michael O'Keefe found a gun on Mr. Garcia after he shot him twice in the heat of a struggle. Mr. Garcia's family and people who say they witnessed the incident contend that Mr. Garcia had no gun and was not resisting the officer when he was shot.

There were flurries of rock and bottle throwing throughout the afternoon yesterday.

At the funeral home, where hundreds of people lined up to view the body of Jose Garcia, quiet was disturbed when a group of 200 marchers headed up the street, chanting "Unity! Unity!" Many of the mourners from the funeral home left to join the march.

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