This week in history: Off-duty cop kills teen on Upper East Side

Front page of the July 23, 1964 issue of T&V

Front page of the July 23, 1964 issue of T&V

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Town & Village newspaper has been providing news for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village for over 65 years and we’ve decided to start taking a look back to see what was going on in the community 50 years ago. Here is a snapshot from the July 23, 1964 issue of Town & Village.

The headline story in this 1964 issue of T&V was about a Stuyvesant Town resident and police officer who shot and killed a “negro” teen on East 76th Street the previous Thursday, inciting riots in Harlem throughout the week following.

The shooting sparked what is known as the Harlem Riot of 1964. Right after the boy was killed, a small group of students began rioting around the area of the shooting and had to be contained by police. On the same day as his funeral, what started as a peaceful rally on the rising crime rate in Harlem turned into a violent mob that required hundreds of officers at Seventh Avenue and West 125th Street. In total, the incident set off six consecutive nights of rioting throughout Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and is considered the precipitating event for riots later in the summer in cities like Philadelphia, Rochester and Chicago.

Town & Village reported that the victim, 15-year-old James Powell, had attacked the officer, Stuyvesant Town Oval resident Lieutenant Thomas Gilligan, with a switchblade. According to the lieutenant’s version of events, he shot the boy once and when the teen kept advancing, Gilligan shot him a second time, ending his life. T&V withheld the officer’s exact address to prevent possible retaliation or mob violence.

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