1935 March 20

NYC Mayor La Guardia Launches Investigation of Police Brutality in Harlem


New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia on this day launched an immediate investigation of racial disturbances in the African-American community of Harlem in New York City, which had occurred the day before on March 20, 1935, and which included allegations of police brutality. The report of the Mayor’s Commission on Conditions in Harlem confirmed allegations of police brutality and made a recommendation for a very limited form of citizen oversight of the police. Mayor La Guardia, however, found the report politically embarrassing and refused to release it.

The 1935 Harlem riot is regarded as the first of the “modern” racial disturbances of the 20th century. Previous riots such as the 1917 East St. Louis riot (July 2, 1917) and the 1919 Chicago race riot (July 27, 1919) had involved mobs of whites invading African-American communities, and killing and beating African Americans, and destroying property, while the police stood by. The 1935 Harlem riot, by contrast was the first to involve African-American protests against discrimination.

Another race riot occurred in New York City on August 1, 1943. In the 1960s a wave of race riots swept the country (including one in New York City). The Kerner Commission report, issued on February 29, 1968, document race discrimination in all aspects of American life, including police misconduct.

Learn more about the 1935 Harlem Race Riot: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/harlem-riot-1935

Read the Mayor’s Commission report, “The Negro in Harlem:” http://www.nyc.gov/html/cchr/downloads/pdf/publications/selected-reports/the_negro_in_harlem-a_report_on_social_and_economic_conditions.pdf

Learn more: Ann Collins, All Hell Broke Loose: American Race Riots From the Progressive Era Through World War II (2012)

Find excerpts of the report with commentary: Anthony Platt, ed., The Politics of Riot Commissions, 1917–1970: A Collection of Official Reports and Critical Essays (1971)

Learn more about LaGuardia: H. Paul Jeffers, The Napoleon of New York: Mayor Fiorello La Guardia  (2002)

Watch Mayor La Guardia read the comics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH9tCcrrcak

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