I was going to wait next month to write an article about this event, but because of everything that’s going on right now, then it makes sense to talk about it now. People around my age who are Dominican and are from Washington Heights, might not know about this history in Washington Heights.
In 1992, you had the LA Riots, but there were also riots in Washington Heights because of a controversial police shooting that killed Jose “Kiko” Garcia. My family and I were living on 164th and Amsterdam Avenue. According to my parents, we had a fire escape. So they could see everything that was happening. I was a year old, but my parents have told me some of the stories. The rest came down to research.
In July 1992, 23-year old Jose “Kiko” Garcia was shot by police officer Michael O’Keefe. According to what I’ve been told, Garcia was a drug dealer. At the same time, O’Keefe was seen in the neighborhood by Dominican residents, and rumors were thrown out there that he was a corrupt cop and a thief.
I always say this. If you go into the drug business, one of the two things will happen: dead or prison. The similarity between Garcia and George Floyd is that they both died in the hands of a police officer. The difference is that George Floyd’s death was caught on tape, he wasn’t a drug dealer, and it affected people not just in the United States, but globally. The death of Jose “Kiko” Garcia is something that angered the city of New York or just the Washington Heights neighborhood alone.
The bottom line is that we are still seeing police brutality to this day against people of color.
Garcia got murdered on 162nd Street and Saint Nicholas Avenue, one of the most notorious drug spots. According to residents, Garcia begged for his life. His murder angered the whole community. There was black smoke from dozens of fires in trash cans and automobiles.
It started with a peaceful protest, but then it turned into violence. There are even video clips on YouTube about the riots. In one of the clips, I saw looters destroying my block, where I’ve been living for 22 years. It’s mind-blowing to me that this is how Washington Heights used to be. In the 80s and early 90s, Washington Heights was like the Wild Wild West. Drug dealers and addicts overran it. Thank god that I wasn’t old enough to experience that era. My parents did.
During the riots, a lot of Washington Heights residents confronted the cops on 181st Street and Broadway. It was a crazy time. Next month, it’s about to be 28 years since the riots took place. I think that the riots changed Washington Heights because we have never seen anything to this magnitude ever again. Washington Heights is much safer now compare to that era.
***I am not the owner of these images