Forty years ago today . . .
The New York Post recalls the carnage of the blackout, 40 years later.
On a three-mile stretch of the major thoroughfare that divides Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant, fires, looting and rioting erupted just minutes after the power fizzled.
. . .
Looters were running wild across the city — but the worst of the worst was happening on Broadway in Bushwick.
Marauding bands of disgruntled residents — men, women and children — flooded the streets and began destroying everything in their paths, one grocery store and clothing shop at a time.
. . .
Stores’ iron gates were ripped off by dozens of greedy hands. People shamelessly pulled up to the fronts of furniture stores in trucks and loaded up whatever they could fit. Bullets rained from the rooftops. The sound of hysteria cackled all around.
Bushwick burned a bright shade of orange as vandals set fire to the stores that had been picked clean.
“They were like bluefish in a feeding frenzy. . . . The strongest feeling I had was one of disbelief,’’ a police captain in the nearby 81st Precinct would say later, according to a report on that night by the Ford Foundation.
“I’ve seen looting before, but this was total devastation. Smashing, burning.”
For many of the impoverished local residents, it was as if the holidays had come early.
“It’s our Christmas,” a little boy told a jewelry-store owner on Broadway the day after the blackout, according to The Post’s coverage of the event at the time. “Gimme somethin’.”
. . .
When the smoke cleared, many of Bushwick’s business people had lost their livelihoods — and the community was left without its heart.
“The next day was the saddest day of our life,’’ said Robert Camacho, a gangbanger-turned-community-activist who has lived in Bushwick for all his 56 years.
Camacho is the type of guy who can regale a crowd with stories until his throat is sore and his voices crackles like an AM radio station.
Standing on the corner of Kosciuszko Street and Broadway, just steps from where he grew up, Camacho leaned on a cane while pointing out the businesses that were wiped out by the blackout.
“It was like a bomb fell, the next day,’’ he told The Post. “On this side, it used to be a small little supermarket, and over there was a paint store, over there was a botanica, over there was a pet shop.
“After the blackout, they set it on fire . . . You can’t go to Shoe King anymore, the sneaker store they raided. You can’t go to Market Town. Market Town was on fire. Over there used to be a paint store; that [place] blew up. The botanica was horrendous, it was bad.”
Archival photos of Broadway after the mayhem show blackened storefronts gaping like gutted fish, their contents spilled out onto the sidewalk. Disembodied mannequins can be seen littering the floors as smoke shrouded the sun while the fires continued to burn. The overhead BMT subway line, now the J-M-Z, turned the already blackened streets a darker shade of despair.
“Where do we go now? Where do you go to the store? You couldn’t believe how destroyed [it was],” Camacho said.
“We took away our block, we took away our stuff . . . We lost us, we lost our ’hood, our livelihood.’’
The months and years following the blackout were Broadway’s darkest days.
The thoroughfare became a “ghost town,” Sekzer said. People moved out, and the few businesses that survived struggled to stay open. Well into the 1980s, the majority of the shops remained shuttered.
And the crime. Oh, the crime.
“After the blackout, it was terrible . . . It was just run-down, everything was crazy,” recalled Sandra Young-Quiroz, 50, who used to live near Broadway. “There was a lot of crime. It was dark and deserted . . . There was a lot of abandoned buildings. People used to get robbed. To be out there . . . was dangerous.”
Gates Avenue between Broadway and Bushwick Avenue was the only stretch in the entire city that required two patrol cars for any call. “It didn’t matter what job it was . . . Two cars [were sent],” Sekzer said.
Anita Haines, 60, who grew up a few blocks from Broadway, called it “just a horrible, horrible time.
“For a while, there was nothing” good to come out of the area, she said.
There's more at the link, including photographs. Recommended reading.
I'm posting this as a reminder to my readers who live in or near such areas. 1977 was far from the largest power failure affecting New York City; the northeastern US blackouts of 1965 and 2003 were bigger, and lasted longer. Other incidents such as the 1965 and 1992 riots in Los Angeles, natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, and other occurrences can and have produced similar disruption - and similar crime and civil unrest.
Wherever you live, this sort of thing can and probably will happen again. Please make sure you prepare for it, and take what measures you can to safeguard yourselves and your loved ones.