1970 May 8

“Hard Hat Riot:” Union Workers Attack Anti-War Demonstrators in NYC


In what became famous as the “Hard Hat Riot,” about 200 union workers, mostly construction workers, attacked anti-Vietnam War protesters in lower Manhattan, NYC, on this day. Over 70 people were injured, including four police officers.

The original anti-Vietnam War protest, involving about 1,000 high school and college students began at about 7:30 in the morning at the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets. The union workers attacked around noon. Most carried American flags and carried signs reading “America, Love “It or Leave It,” and other pro-Vietnam War and pro-America slogans.

The anti-war protests was part of the national wave of protests following President Richard Nixon’s announcement that he had ordered the invasion of Cambodia (May 1, 1970), and the shooting and killing of four people by Ohio National Guard officers at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.

The Hard Hat Riot included allegations that New York City police officers tolerated the attacks on the protesters. The number of officers at the scene was small and inadequate. Some observers reported that police officers failed to intervene as the union members chased down anti-war protesters, pursuing those with the longest hair, and beating them with hard hats and other weapons. Mayor John V. Lindsay, a liberal Republican criticized the police for their lack of action. Three days later, thousands of pro-war people, including union workers and white collar workers, held a rally. Some held signs saying “Impeach the Red Mayor” and “Commy Rat.”

Mayor Lindsay clashed with the New York City police when he created a civilian-majority Civilian Complaint Review Board. The police union struck back by sponsoring a referendum in which the voters abolished the board by a 2-1 margin on November 8, 1966.

Learn more about the anti-Vietnam War movement: Thomas Powers, The War at Home: Vietnam and the American People, 1964–1968 (1973)

Read: Philip Caputo, 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings (2006)

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