Photos of New York in the 1990s reveal that one of the most dynamic decades was also most turbulent.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for New Yorkers, and the nostalgia that we experience today makes us look at the earlier decades with rose-tinted glasses.
But, 1990s New York photos prove that things were not as great as many seem to believe.
Crown Heights Riot Of 1991 And Racial Tensions
Tensions between Black and Jewish neighbors escalated on August 19. The Crown Heights riots lasted for three days, and it all started with the death of a 7-year-old Black boy, Gavin Cato.
A station wagon jumped the curb, hitting and killing the boy and injuring his cousin 7. The driver of the vehicle was a 22-year-old Jewish man. Once the ambulance came to the scene, many claimed they helped the driver, but not the boy.
These early 1990s New York photos vividly reflect the injustice and ongoing struggles that such a diverse community faces today.
Once the violence broke, 29-year-old Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death by 16-year-old Lemrick Nelson. Black people wanted justice for Cato, and the Jewish people wanted justice for Rosenbaum.
According to numerous sources, the police did not react on time, so NYPD made a new Disorder Control Unit after the riots.
Over 200 people were injured, 225 were robbed, 27 vehicles were destroyed, and hundreds ended up in police custody.
Early 1990s New York Photos Remind Us That The City Was Not Safe
A year later, New Yorkers were once again on the streets. This time, it was in response to Los Angels Police beating up a Black man, Rodney King.
Just over a year before, New York elected a black Mayor for the first time, Nelson Mandela came to visit the city, and many saw it as a sign of relief. But, the whole decade would turn out to be full of protests in the Big Apple because the actual resolution was not on the table.
On August 9, 1997, police officers took Haitian immigrant Abner Louima to the bathroom of the 70th precinct in Brooklyn. Officer Justin Volpe used a broken broomstick to assault the handcuffed man sexually.
Louima did not carry a gun, nor was he a threat. He was trying to calm down two women in a Brooklyn bar. The public was understandably inraged. But, it was nothing compared to Amadou Diallo’s death in 1999. Once again, the police killed an innocent Black man, and this time they used 41 bullets.
So why did the NYPD kill Diallo? Because he looked like a serial rapist, and the young man paid the ultimate price of racial profiling.
It’s not like we have figured things now. It was merely a glance of hope in the early 90s followed by a series of unfortunate events and volatile responses.
Revealing The Death Clock – The City For The Victioms Of Shootings
In the begging of 1994, New York Times Square gained an important piece. It was a clock that counted how many victims of shootings die every day across the States.
The previous decades were vicious, but it doesn’t mean that crime wasn’t a significant issue for NYC in the 90s. If anything, the city got more populated, and crime rates continued growing.
1990s New York photos show a growing number of graffiti, and while some were artistic expressions, others were part of the broken windows theory. It means that minor crimes are tolerated in certain spots, and the forces were focused on murders and rapes.
New Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was elected in 1994, and the main reason he won the election is the fact that his politics were tougher on crime.
He was criticized for giving the police too much power, but the second half of the 90s cut the crime rate by roughly 30 percent.
New York City Expanding And Becoming Mecca For Everything And Everyone
With crime rates dropping, the city’s officials had a new task in mind – gentrification.
Suddenly, Times Square was full of tourists, artists across the globe dreamed of the City as the New Yorkers were moving to Manhattan’s East Village, Bushwick, and Williamsburg.
The city was overgrowing, and New York, we all fell in love with shows like Friends or Sex and The City, was the mecca of cultural and artistic growth and acceptance.
However, at the same time, the city faced an increasing number of homeless people, though, sadly, it was not on the list of priorities.
1990s New York Photos Show How The City Became The Coolest
It was no longer Paris or London. Everyone wanted to look like a New Yorker.
This trend continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s.
Typical Upper East Side New Yorker wore black and white, invested in her education as much as she did in her hair care or clothes.
Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy was the ultimate fashion icon, and New York fashion week presented new, fresh designers, like Marc Jacobs, or updated older ones, such as Calvin Klein.
The celebrity culture was at an all-time high in the mid to late 90s, and everything was happening in New York. And for many New Yorkers, Donald Trump was one of the most beloved citizens of the Big Apple.
Attack On The World Trade Center As A Sign Of Things To Come
Between snowstorms and growing pollution, several almost forgotten terrorist attacks were ominous signs of things to come.
On February 26, 1993, just after noon, a terrorist attack exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center.
Six people were killed, a thousand injured, but the building wasn’t critically damaged.
New York in the 90s successfully fought against similar attacks, but tragically, everything changed on September 11, 2001.
Celebrating 30 Years Of Pride
In these 1990s New York photos, you can see that the city had plenty of positive energy and reasons to celebrate.
June 27, 1999, marked 30 years of the Stonewall riots, signifying the beginning of the LGBTQ political movement.
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had a complicated relationship with the LGBT community. However, Pride in the 90s New York was uplifting, reflecting all that the Stonewall uprising stood for.
The World’s Capital And Poverty
In the 1990s, New York photos from everyday life, in many ways, tell a story of two cities.
The first is the glorious, gigantic, and continually expanding city where everything is possible. The other is the one where homelessness is on the rise, and people are struggling to survive.
In one, everyone is accepted, yet in the other, discrimination is on every corner.
In 1990, almost 2 million people were living below the poverty line. It was around 13% of all population. Two years later, that number went up to 25%.
By the end of a decade, that number was around 21%, which sounds extreme if you know that 1% of those 1% wealthiest, most powerful people lived in Manhattan at the same time.
NYC’s duality is seen in the city itself. For the most part, it was overcrowded. However, some areas were left to rot, vanish, disappear.
That’s what we didn’t get to see on TV. And that is what makes 90s New York City photos so valuable – they prove that it was the best of times for some and the worst for others.
Yet, the city had its spirit and hope. Something that was abruptly taken away 20 years ago, on September 11, since the 90s were the last decade for the Twin Towers and the first time New Yorkers will experience the new meaning of terror.