A Manhattan park returned to normality last night after being plagued by illegal raves, stabbings and unlicensed boxing matches for the last three weeks.
Revellers in Washington Square Park have defied police and refused to leave at the midnight closing time, dancing the night away and leaving the park trashed each morning to the horror of the well-heeled residents of Greenwich Village.
The chaos appeared to have finally abated on Tuesday night as people were seen strolling through the park, chatting with friends by the fountain – and the only music to be heard was strummed by a guitar player.
Dozens of people were out enjoying the park but there were no signs of rowdiness, with the most activity being focused on two men who were juggling illuminated skittles and later on a handful of dancers gathered around a guitar player.
Throughout June, with Covid restrictions easing, people have flocked to the park to let off steam on the hot summer nights. But the NYPD have struggled to disperse crowds and when they brought forward the closing time to 10pm after Memorial Day weekend it led to running battles through the streets of the Village.
On Friday, the lawlessness culminated in a stampede in which a 43-year-old woman was trampled and left with a bloody head wound when a park-goer pulled out a knife and a taser, sending dozens of people fleeing in terror.
But despite a beefed up police presence over the weekend, youngsters still returned on Sunday night to listen to blaring sound systems as they drank booze and smoked pot.
On Monday night, the park appeared to be more calm but moped riders and skateboarders were still seen haring across the pathways around the central fountain as a crowd of people watched on.
But in a relief for beleaguered homeowners nearby, some pictures showed revellers appearing to pack up and leave after a weekend of partying.
A man cuts through Washington Square Park on a bicycle as the green space returned to normal on Tuesday night
The chaos appeared to have finally abated on Tuesday night as people were seen strolling through the park and chatting with friends by the fountain
A pair of guitar players strum their instruments in the park on Tuesday night as peace returned
A group of friends sit by the fountain and chat on Tuesday night as the park returns to normal
People are seen walking under the archway of the park on Tuesday night
A small group of people were seen dancing around a guitar player
Two men juggle skittles with each other as others sit on benches or stroll through the park on Tuesday on a night of relative peace
SUNDAY NIGHT: Throughout June, with Covid restrictions easing, people have flocked to the park to let off steam on the hot summer nights. But the NYPD have struggled to disperse crowds and when they brought forward the closing time to 10pm after Memorial Day weekend it led to running battles through the streets of the Village.
The man who pulled a knife on Friday, Jason McDermott, appeared at Manhattan Criminal Court on Sunday charged with menacing, reckless endangerment and weapons charges.
The 42-year-old caused pandemonium last week when he pulled out the blade and a taser disguised as a flashlight. He was allowed to walk free on supervised release. He claims he acted in self-defense.
From Memorial Day weekend onwards, the usual midnight closure of the park was brought forward to 10pm, in a bid to end the loud late-night drinking and partying, and limit the antisocial behavior.
The curfew saw violent confrontations with the police, and running battles in the streets of Greenwich Village as officers forced people from the park at 10pm.
Last weekend the 10pm closure was abandoned, in favor of the usual midnight locking up – which does not appear to be enforced.
On Sunday night the speakers were blaring thumping dance tracks again as hundreds gathered to party the night away in sweltering summer humidity. Police officers were seen parked up by the park’s iconic archway, not intervening.
FRIDAY: Jason McDermott, 42, was arrested at 12:40am on Saturday morning, after he brandished a Taser and a knife. On Sunday a judge released him without bail on menacing, reckless endangerment and weapons charges
FRIDAY: NYPD tweeted a photo of the Taser, disguised as a flashlight, and a knife with a curved blade. A stampede begun when ;cDermott brandished the weapons in Washington Square Park
FRIDAY: A 43-year-old woman was seen being carried from the scene by friends in the early hours of Saturday, after she was knocked to the ground during the stampede
FRIDAY: The woman was seen with blood pouring from her face Friday night ad NYPD officers went to her aid in the park
Friday night’s stampede was just another episode in a troubled park. On Saturday, large crowds gathered there again, without incident.
On June 5, revellers clashed with police attempting to impose a 10pm curfew, leading to 23 people being arrested and eight officers injured.
And on June 11, two men were stabbed during a 10-person brawl. The following morning a 77 year-old cook at the nearby Washington Square Diner was shoved into a plate glass window after kicking a troublemaker out.
On Wednesday, the NYPD’s 6th Precinct called an emergency meeting where hundreds of nearby residents expressed outrage over the non-stop partying in the park.
In City Hall on Wednesday, Rodney Harrison, the NYPD’s Chief of Department – the highest ranking uniformed officer on the force – told reporters that fliers would be handed out to park visitors reminding them to clear out by the midnight closing time.
On Saturday afternoon, Christa Shaub, who has lived in the area for 15 years, and Amy Heinemams, who has lived in there for six years, said the partying in the park is nothing new especially during the summer months, but ‘it’s exaggerated post-pandemic.’
‘This is an open park, but you need to have respect for people,’ Shaub said. ‘There needs to be regulations.’
A group of friends sit by the fountain and chat on Tuesday night
People take pictures of the famous archway to the park on Tuesday night
A dog walker with his pooch at the park on Tuesday night
People sit around the fountain on Tuesday night as the revellers appeared to have departed after weeks of partying
People sit around the fountain on benches and chat to their friends
A man posing in the park (left) on Tuesday night and no patrol cars were parked up by the entrance for once (right)
Usually police cars have been parked at the entrance to stop more revellers from arriving but they were not there on Tuesday night as calm returned
While they think the park is safe during the day, Heinemams said, ‘I won’t walk through the park at night.’
Karen Bartolo, who’s now in her late 50s, has a deep reverence for the park’s rich history and said she’s been performing music in Washington Square Park since she was 15. Every weekend she was here.
They played music, smoked pot and had a good time, she said. They played music until 2am, but there weren’t amps and large bass systems that can blast music for blocks.
But what’s happening Washington Square now ‘is horrible,’ she said.
She said: ‘At night time this park used to be the place. But now, people are crazy. In the day even. But at nighttime? Forget about it.’
She added: ‘In the ’60s, we had our problems, but we came together. We need to come together now.’
People throw luminous skittles to each other on a relaxed Tuesday night at the park
Young women pose for photos in front of the archway at the park on Tuesday night
A woman stands beside the fountain as people headed out for a calm Tuesday night at the park
Bartolo, along with multiple other park goers who spoke to the DailyMail.com Saturday afternoon, talked about an escalating level of hostility between police, revelers and the park’s neighbors.
There are too many ‘aggressive police,’ she said, but the kids ‘are out of control’ and egging on law enforcement.
‘It can’t get violent,’ Bartolo said, ‘otherwise we are a lost cause.’
In a corner of the park under the cover of trees and surrounded by shrubbery just south of the arches, a group of about a dozen old timers jam out with an acoustic guitar and dance to live Bob Mellencamp songs.
The guitarist and one of the singers – who said his name was Richie – said he’s been coming to this spot for about eight years and said others in the group have been doing this for decades.
They all live in the apartments across the street. They knew the homeless who roamed the park by name and essentially adopted a homeless person to make they ate and were OK.
But Richie said they make a point to be out of the park no later than 5pm.
‘We’re not going to deal with what’s going on night and don’t want any part of it,’ Richie told DailyMail.com.
Hundreds of revelers descended on Washington Square Park again on Saturday night for another after-dark rave.
A woman speaking through a megaphone shouted: ‘I just wanna say to all my black people, happy Juneteenth and to the NYPD, suck my D.’
One group was seen walking around carrying a sign reading ‘High 5 me if you like weed’, and offering people hand sanitizer.
The girl in the group, Samantha Rose, 25, said: ‘I usually see music and dance parties in the evening. Last night we had some light saber fights.’
Rose, a barista who lives in the Bronx, said didn’t start coming to the park until COVID.
‘There’s been a lot of people on acid in the park lately not gonna lie but that’s been going on since the 60s.’
Tensions have boiled over in recent weeks between revelers at the rowdy late-night events and neighbors.
But Rose insists the events only got out of hand when police started clashing with the partygoers.
Police cars were parked up by the famous archway as people continued to dance in the park to thundering music despite the fury of local residents on Sunday night
Revellers gathered around thundering sound systems for another night of partying on Sunday despite a police order to close Washington Square Park at 10pm
People continue to party in Washington Square Park as NYPD cops stand back and fail to enforce the midnight closing time
Rose said: ‘The city is noisy. Even after those first few days, police told residents to back off because it wasn’t an issue.
‘The first couple nights there were complaints about he noise. It wasn’t disturbing until they were running past the outdoor dining tripping over tables to avoid cops.
‘It’s a little extreme for them to go from nothing to shoving people in fountains.’
Last Monday, Mayor Bill De Blasio downplayed the violence and chaos at Washington Square Park in recent weeks, telling reporters that he believes the situation will resolve itself ‘naturally.’
With bars and restaurants facing tight restrictions over the last year due to the pandemic, it transformed into a popular party destination.
Now, as the parties and reports of crime increase – and COVID-19 restrictions have lifted – residents and ravers are coming to blows.
On the one side, young revelers say the park is public property. They question why they cannot use the space to enjoy parties and why the wealthy Greenwich Village homeowners nearby should have the power to decide who has access to it.
On the other side, residents claim the park has become a site of increased drug use and violence, leaving them scared to walk around the area and left grappling with the noise later into the night.
The violence in Washington Square Park comes as the NYPD struggle with a surge in violent crime.
Felony assaults are up eight per cent for the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period last year, while rapes are up by 3 per cent.
NYPD data shows shootings in the Big Apple have increased by 64 per cent year-on-year, while murders are up 13 per cent.
The numbers are disturbing in themselves, but the violence has intensified and taken place in public places, like parks and subways, and in front of witnesses and surveillance cameras.
Revellers continued to gather in the Manhattan park on Sunday night despite a police order to shut the park at 10pm.
A woman is seen dancing at the centre of a circle in Washington Square Park last night
People dancing the night away at Washington Square Park on Sunday night
NYPD cops speak to a man outside the entrance to the park late on Sunday
Last week, former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton warned American cities, including New York City, are in for a ‘very, long dangerous summer’ as murder rates have skyrocketed
And there aren’t any short- or long-term answers, Bratton told CNBC’s Shepard Smith last Monday.
‘Unlike the last crime epidemic that took decades to build up to the early ’90s, this one has occurred, literally, overnight,’ Bratton said.
‘It’s like the virus, it’s literally, out of nowhere, and so solutions are not immediately apparent.’
Bratton, who earned the nickname ‘supercop’ for helping clean up the streets of New York City and Los Angeles, issued his warning last Monday.
In May, Governor Andrew Cuomo called the surge in violent crime a ‘major problem’ and said unless the NYPD gets a handle on it soon, the city would become undesirable.
‘New Yorkers don’t feel safe and they don’t feel safe because the crime rate is up. It’s not that they are being neurotic or overly sensitive – they are right,’ he said.
Washington Square Park through the ages
Nestled in the heart of Manhattan, Washington Square Park is known for its iconic arch and fountain.
But long before they were built, it was an area of marsh land with a natural waterway named Minetta Creek home to fresh trout.
The Native American Lenape tribe cultivated the land in the 1600s before it was taken over by the Dutch.
The Dutch then offered some of the land to African-born slaves they freed in 1642 – but the free black farmers then lost the land again under English rule.
In 1797, the City’s Common Council converted the land into a Potter’s Field – the name for an area where the poor were buried. The site is also thought to have been the site of public executions.
Then, in 1826, the area around the park was converted into a militia training ground named Washington Military Parade Ground. The next year, some parts were turned into a public park.
Famously, Samuel F.B. Morse gave a public demonstration of his new invention – the telegraph – in the park in 1838
After the City’s Department of Public Parks was formed to look after the city’s parks in 1870, it underwent a major redesign with curved paths and shaded areas to provide an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
The iconic marble Washington Arch was built between 1890-1892 and other monuments were erected over the coming years.
Throughout the 20th century, the park increasingly became a site of protest and performances with labor unions marching after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911, and the Beat generation and folkies setting up in the park.
Later redesigns followed and the Arch was restored in the noughties.
The park, now named after George Washington who was inaugurated as the first US president in New York City in 1789, continues to be a popular place for protests and cultural events.