CULTURE & ARTS
03/01/2017 10:10 am ET

Commanding Photos Chronicle 20 Years Of Protests In New York

Before Trump, and before social media, resistance was a part of the fabric of American democracy.
A woman walks by a line of police during the Crown Heights race riots in Brooklyn. This was a three-day racial riot that occu
Bronx Documentary Center
A woman walks by a line of police during the Crown Heights race riots in Brooklyn. This was a three-day racial riot that occurred from August 19th to 21st and pitted African American and Caribbean Americans against Jewish residents. (Mark Peterson. Brooklyn, 1991.)

Donald Trump’s presidency has fueled a surge of new activists, eager to defend the rights of immigrants, Muslims, women, children, LGBTQ individuals and all who feel threatened by the current administration. Protests have sprung up in cities across the nation since his inauguration, demonstrating that power exists not just in the White House but on the streets.

Images of marches, rallies and demonstrations of all kinds are, today, relentlessly documented and shared on social media, endowing ephemeral happenings with permanent, material form. Yet long before the internet, protests were still part of the fabric of American democracy, and devoted photojournalists ensured that activist uprisings were not easily forgotten. The main difference, however, is that most of these pre-internet photos remain largely unseen. 

An exhibition titled “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” on view at the Bronx Documentary Center honors the legacy of protest photography in New York, zooming in on the years between 1980 and 2000. The show, featuring the work of 37 independent photojournalists, is co-curated by Meg Handler, former photo editor of The Village Voice; historian Tamar Carroll, author of Mobilizing New York: AIDS, Antipoverty and Feminist Activism; and Michael Kamber, founder of the Bronx Documentary Center (BDC).

Bensonhurst residents hold up watermelons to mock African American protestors who took to the streets of the largely Italian
© Ricky Flores / Bronx Documentary Center
Bensonhurst residents hold up watermelons to mock African American protestors who took to the streets of the largely Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn following the acquittal of Bensonhurst resident Keith Mondello in the shooting death of 16-year-old African American Yusef Hawkins on May 19, 1990. Hawkins, who had gone to the neighborhood to look at a used car, was met by a white mob and shot to death. (Ricky Flores, Canarsie, Brooklyn, 1990.)

The exhibition picks up in 1980, when New Yorkers were grappling with economic upheaval, shifting demographics, the AIDS crisis, the culture wars, environmental unease, and the ongoing struggle for equal rights. Many of the issues precipitating these images ― from police brutality to gentrification to a woman’s right to choose ― are still being fought out in the streets today. 

“Whose Streets?” features snapshots from a variety of moments, causes and perspectives. The photograph above, for example, shot by Ricky Flores in Brooklyn in 1990, depicts a crowd of predominantly white men deriding a black protest. The demonstration occurred after Bensonhurst resident Keith Mondello, a white man, was acquitted of murder after shooting 16-year-old Yusef Hawkins, who was black.

Hawkins had gone to the mostly Italian Brooklyn neighborhood to look at a used car, and was attacked and shot to death by a mob of eight white men. Although Mondello was considered the ringleader of the group, he did not fire the fatal shot, and thus was convicted only on lesser counts. Black protesters took to the streets in defiance of the verdict, and the photo depicts white Bensonhurst residents mocking the demonstrators, with one man holding a watermelon above his head. 

Pro-choice demonstrators in downtown Manhattan protest the July 3rd, 1989, Supreme Court Webster decision which limited Roe v
© Nina Berman/ Bronx Documentary Center
Pro-choice demonstrators in downtown Manhattan protest the July 3rd, 1989, Supreme Court Webster decision which limited Roe v. Wade. This was a turning point in the pro-choice movement. Twenty-four were arrested, including activist Mary Lou Greenberg, as they stormed the Brooklyn Bridge. (Nina Berman, 1989.)

Nina Berman’s 1989 photo above depicts pro-choice protestors as they stormed the Brooklyn Bridge on July 3, 1989. The march occurred just after the Supreme Court ruled to “uphold a Missouri state ban on the use of public employees and facilities for performing abortions,” reversing elements of Roe v. Wade. Police arrested 24 pro-choice advocates that day, including activist Mary Lou Greenberg, marking a crucial moment in the battle for reproductive rights.

Certain elements of the featured photos distinguish them from the more contemporary crop scattered across various social media feeds and timelines. The style of police uniforms, outdated haircuts, the overwhelming lack of smartphones being brandished in the air. Yet, for the most part, these scenes could just as well be taking place today, when the majority of social injustices plaguing our country are just as prevalent as they were over 30 years ago. 

For the many people today still learning how to incorporate acts of resistance into their daily lives, head to the Bronx Documentary Center to see how people have been showing up and speaking out for decades. The photographs depict anger, resolution, hope and solidarity, written on the faces and bodies of countless individuals whose names often go unrecognized. The images, however, will ensure they’re not forgotten. 

“Whose Streets? Our Streets! New York City: 1980–2000” is on view at the Bronx Documentary Center until March 5, 2017.

  • Picketing restaurant waiters and community members protest outside Jing Fong Restaurant whose management illegally took waite
    Bronx Documentary Center
    Picketing restaurant waiters and community members protest outside Jing Fong Restaurant whose management illegally took waiters'€™ tips to pay for social security. NY State Attorney General fined the largest restaurant in Chinatown $1.13 million in 1995. (Corky Lee, 1995.)
  • Squatters attempt to defend their building by blocking the street with overturned cars and trash before an expected attack by
    Bronx Documentary Center
    Squatters attempt to defend their building by blocking the street with overturned cars and trash before an expected attack by the police on East 13th Street. (Andrew Lichtenstein, Lower East Side, Manhattan, 1995.)
  • A group called "Women in Mourning and Outrage" hold up photographs of Amadou Diallo during a rally in front of the United Nat
    A group called "Women in Mourning and Outrage" hold up photographs of Amadou Diallo during a rally in front of the United Nations. The rally was held after the acquittal of four New York City police officers involved in the shooting of Mr. Diallo, who was unarmed. (Ricky Flores, 2000.)
  • The Women's Action Coalition demonstrates at the opening of the Guggenheim Soho to protest the lack of women artists in the m
    Bronx Documentary Center
    The Women's Action Coalition demonstrates at the opening of the Guggenheim Soho to protest the lack of women artists in the museum'€™s inaugural exhibition. (Lisa Kahane, 1992.)
  • Day of Outrage demonstration at the Jay Street-Borough Hall subway station following the Howard Beach verdict on Dec. 21, 198
    Day of Outrage demonstration at the Jay Street-Borough Hall subway station following the Howard Beach verdict on Dec. 21, 1987 in which three defendants were found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Michael Griffith who was beaten and chased by a white mob onto a highway where he was struck by a car. (Ricky Flores, Howard Beach, 1987.)
  • A protester is carried away during an ACT-UP Stop the Church direct action at St. Patrick'€™s Cathedral on Dec. 10, 1989. (Br
    Bronx Documentary Center
    A protester is carried away during an ACT-UP Stop the Church direct action at St. Patrick'€™s Cathedral on Dec. 10, 1989. (Brian Palmer, 1989.)
  • NYC protesters take to the streets in response to the acquittal of the officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. Some
    Bronx Documentary Center
    NYC protesters take to the streets in response to the acquittal of the officers involved in the beating of Rodney King. Some Asian-owned groceries such as this one were vandalized. (Linda Rosier, April 1992.)
  • Sandra Lee Phipps, Pro-choice rally, NYC, 1992.
    Bronx Documentary Center
    Sandra Lee Phipps, Pro-choice rally, NYC, 1992.
  • James Hamilton, Tompkins Square Park riot, New York City, 1988. 
    Bronx Documentary Center
    James Hamilton, Tompkins Square Park riot, New York City, 1988. 
  • Demonstration in front of the New York Stock Exchange to demand the indictment of the four policemen who killed Amadou Diallo
    Bronx Documentary Center
    Demonstration in front of the New York Stock Exchange to demand the indictment of the four policemen who killed Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old unarmed immigrant from Guinea. (Frank Fournier, Manhattan, March, 1999.)
  • A man protests the death sentence handed down against Mumia Abu Jamal who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police offi
    Bronx Documentary Center
    A man protests the death sentence handed down against Mumia Abu Jamal who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. (Sylvia Plachy)
HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

CONVERSATIONS