Volume 78 / Number 15, September 10 - 16, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Sturgeon of Leftover Crack performing at the “Donut Social” last Friday night. At one point, he threw donuts toward police offices, then was later arrested in Tompkins Square Park.

1 tased, 5 arrested in Tompkins ‘Donut Riot’

By Jefferson Siegel

Following a court hearing on sound levels, an East Village concert went off pretty much without a hitch last Friday night. But an impromptu gathering afterward turned ugly, resulting in five arrests, including of Scott Sturgeon, a.k.a. Sturgeon, the lead singer of the group Leftover Crack. In addition, police used a Taser on one man.

The “Donut Social” concert was staged to protest sweeping gentrification concerns along with “recent incidents of police brutality that occurred in the neighborhood,” according to John Penley, one of the organizers. Penley, along with co-organizers Jerry “The Peddler” Wade and Bill Cashman, had worked right up to showtime to get a sound permit so that the music could be heard by a sizeable audience. 

Obtaining an amplified-sound permit had posed a major stumbling block to getting the concert off the ground. Organizers first went to court after police wouldn’t accept an application. Then, just hours before the concert, Penley and others appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Gerald Lynch to protest lowered sound level limits. 

The final determination offered organizers a maximum sound level of 70 decibels at 50 feet. According to Robert Arihood, an East Village photographer with sound-engineering experience, that level at 10 feet is equivalent to “the sound of a vacuum cleaner.” 

Inside a penned-off area on E. Fifth St. at First Ave., a crowd of 150 mostly young people listened to several speeches, as well as music by Chris Ryan of the East Village group Team Spider. The group Crack Rock Steady Seven, composed of Sturgeon from Leftover Crack and members of other bands, was the headline attraction. 

Leftover Crack, a punk/ska/death metal band, has a song list filled with anti-police lyrics. The song “One Dead Cop” includes the lyrics “More dead cops / might make the hurting stop,” followed by the refrain, “Kill cops.” 

The choice of Leftover Crack songs was a deliberate swipe at police who would be monitoring the concert.  

More than a dozen police officers stood across from the pen, including Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro, the Ninth Precinct’s commanding officer. Also pacing the street was a sound-monitoring technician.  

The enthusiastic crowd of dedicated fans made up in volume for the lower sound levels as they sang along word for word to the three songs the group managed to perform.  

In the middle of their second song, “Burn Them Prisons,” police gave Cashman, Leftover Crack’s manager, two warnings that the sound limit was being exceeded. Cashman rushed to the stage and began turning off amplifiers. Sturgeon laid down his electric guitar and finished the song on an acoustic guitar. He then jumped into the crowd to play a final song.  

Back on stage, someone passed Sturgeon, 32, a box of donuts, which he proceeded to throw at police. He then held up his guitar and said, “This machine kills cops.” Pointing it at nearby officers like a rifle, he yelled, “Bam...bam...” several times. 

(He was apparently referring to the slogan Woody Guthrie displayed on his guitar, “This Machine Kills Fascists.”)

As instruments and sound equipment were quickly packed up and carted away, organizer Wade reflected on the concert: “We wanted to rock and roll. That’s what we did.” 

The show over, the band and many of the audience decamped to nearby Tompkins Square Park for an informal acoustic concert. On the plaza south of the main lawn, several dozen fans sat in a circle around the musicians, singing along. An unmarked police car with darkened windows sat idling about 30 feet away.  

As the band concluded and everyone stood up, several police exited the car. Sturgeon, now dressed in a striped shirt, was grabbed and handcuffed. He would later be charged with harassment against a police officer for having thrown the donuts at police, as well as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. 

Outraged fans surrounded the police car, one screaming over and over, “He hasn’t done anything, he was singing in the park.” Several others started banging on the car’s hood, as one man climbed onto its trunk. The sound of bottles breaking against pavement mingled with the wail of sirens as more police cars rushed into the park.  

Police dragged the man off the top of the unmarked car and handcuffed him as others overturned a garbage can and threw debris onto the car’s roof. A third man ran toward another police car before being thrown to the ground and arrested.  

As the crowd continued screaming, a fourth man began throwing folding chairs that had been left by a nearby stage for the HOWL! Festival. As police approached, he threw another chair before running north around the lawn. A police officer caught up with the man halfway around the lawn and tased him in the chest. The stunned man was handcuffed and charged with attempted assault and resisting arrest. 

By now, the crowd was in a frenzy of anger and frustration. As a police car tried to navigate between a line of benches and a tree, one young woman sat down in its path and others took her cue, yelling, “Sit down!” A tense standoff ensued as the car’s path was blocked. Police silently stood their ground as the crowd, individually and as a group, continued yelling demands for answers. 

After sitting for 10 minutes, the crowd stood and marched back to the Ninth Precinct on E. Fifth St. As several officers exited the precinct and lined up in front outside, about 50 screaming people filled the middle of the street. At one point several officers wearing riot helmets emerged but a moment later returned back inside. 

People continued to call out everything from curses to inquiries. One woman kept asking, “Why are you abrogating our civil rights?” 

Deputy Inspector De Quatro called concert organizer Wade aside and the pair spoke for a minute. Then Wade approached the crowd, advising them he was told that they had to leave the street or risk arrest. Most complied as more officers arrived carrying metal barricades from the concert to keep the raucous crowd on the sidewalk. 

One young woman standing near the precinct entrance persisted in asking officers why they wouldn’t explain their reasons for the arrests. The officer told her several times that she had to move. When she didn’t, three officers grabbed her and took her into the precinct. She was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of governmental administration. 

The crowd remained outside the precinct for several hours. At one point they alternated yelling, “What happened to freedom of speech?” with “Let Sturgeon go.”  

Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, and Susan Howard, a Lower East Side activist and coordinator of the New York City chapter of the N.L.G., arrived at 10 p.m. and soon provided the crowd and organizers with updates on the arrestees. The crowd eventually dispersed with no further incidents. 

On Saturday, the guild said Sturgeon would be represented by Martin Stolar. Stolar was one of the original attorneys on the Handschu case, which set guidelines for police surveillance and investigations of political activists. 

Organizer Penley sees a larger threat to the East Village as a result of last Friday evening’s events.  

“A federal judge actually said we have a point about selective enforcement,” he said. “That means now the police have been told they have to enforce this [the sound limit] on everybody in the neighborhood.” Penley said a variety of gatherings, from the HOWL! Festival to a recently held Christian concert in Tompkins Square Park, would be subject to the lower sound limits.  

“If a federal judge says this is adequate to protect our free speech and assembly, this country’s in trouble,” he concluded. 

Penley has been actively organizing protests against a rush of gentrification in the East Village, most notably at 47 E. Third St., where the landlord wants to evict tenants and use the entire five-story building for his personal home. Penley’s own home on E. Third St. is also under threat as residents claim illegal workers are carrying out disruptive renovations with the intent of chasing out below market-rate renters.

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