At least forty-four people and ten police officers were allegedly assaulted during the disorder in Harlem in 1935. Most alleged assaults took place in the same areas as other forms of disorder, although three cases are the only incidents in north Harlem. The records of these events are highly fragmentary, so more assaults could have taken place. Newspapers published separate lists of those arrested and those injured in the disorder, with few accounts of events that connect an injured individual to an individual charged with assault. Nineteen additional people are reported as being injured without any source describing the circumstances, leaving the possibility that some may have been assaulted. No individuals assaulted by police are identified in the historical record despite evidence that numerous people suffered injuries at the hands of police officers. The nature of the violence that took place during the disorder also made it likely to escape the historical record. Most assaults took the form of objects thrown from a distance or attacks by groups. In both cases it was difficult to identify and apprehend the individuals responsible. Even the nature of some assaults was uncertain. In several instances journalists disagreed over whether an individual had been hit by an object or attacked by a group.
As a result, police arrested only five people for assault, all black men alleged to have assaulted white men, one of who was a police officer. Further demonstrating the difficulty of prosecuting crowd violence, only James Hughes, the man charged with assaulting the police officer, was convicted. Thirteen assaults appear only in records of ambulance call outs and hospital admissions, and are not mentioned in any newspaper reports of the riot. Six assaults appear in only one newspaper story, all but one cases involving white victims reported by white publications that emphasized that dimension of the disorder. Such fragmentary sources suggest that it is likely that other cases may not have been captured in the historical record, with those assaulted either not being treated at the hospital or not receiving medical treatment at all, or not attracting the attention or interest of reporters.
Notwithstanding these limitations, the alleged assaults for which there is evidence cast the disorder in a different light than most accounts offered at the time and those advanced by historians. Most alleged assaults not involving police were interracial, by blacks against whites (29/40 with information on race). Such assaults provide the key element of a race riot, evidence at odds with the rejection of that characterization of the disorder in 1935 by African American leaders, the local Communist Party, and much of the New York City press. The evidence of assaults is also at odds with historians’ interpretation of the disorder as a new form of race riot in which violence targeted only property and the police.
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