This Rumor Sparked The First Modern "Race Riot"

apollo theatre street sign
Zain Murdock
April 7, 2022

Lino Rivera was 16 years old when his neighborhood thought he was dead. The Black, Puerto Rican teen had allegedly stolen a pocket knife from a shop on 125th Street in Harlem on March 19, 1935 – and after being apprehended by police, he mysteriously disappeared.

It sparked what’s considered the first modern “race riot” in U.S. history, but what really happened?

Spectators had already gathered outside the store by the time police arrived. The store owner let Rivera go out the back door, not wanting to cause a scene. But rumors that he’d been killed spread like wildfire. 

Rumors that they easily squashed, right?

Wrong. The worried crowd simply wanted to see that Rivera was alive. But cops told them it was none of their business! It was a suspicious and condescending answer, especially given what we know about police. And it quickly backfired.

Soon enough, over 10,000 Harlemites came out to protest for Rivera. Windows were shattered, rocks flew through the air, and blood spilled. And when it was all said and done, three Black people were killed and 125 were arrested.

While Rivera wasn’t killed, we’re always right to be skeptical of police – they’re known to lie. We have to always be ready to fight when one of our own is down. One of our biggest strengths is the power of community!

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