The park has become a center piece for demonstrations and riots. In 1857, immigrants protesting about unemployment and food shortages were attacked by the police. In 1883 the deadly Draft Riots occurred in the park an had a serious effect on Manhattan with many lives lost. On January 13, 1874, the Tompkins Square Riots flared up in the park (see above illustration) when police brutally crushed a demonstration involving thousands of workers. The riot marked an unprecedented era of labor conflict and violence. In 1877, 5,000 people fought with the National Guard when they amassed to hear Communist revolutionary speeches.
More recently the park became the nursery of demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960's and by the 1980's had become synonymous with the city's increased social problems. The park at that time was a high-crime area that contained encampments of homeless people, and it was a center for illegal drug dealing and heroin use. In August 1988, another riot erupted when police attempted to clear the park of homeless people; 44 people were injured. However, increasing gentrification of the East Village in the 1990' and 2000's, as well as enforcement of a park curfew and the eviction of homeless people, have changed the character of Tompkins Square Park. It is now a very popular recreational park with playgrounds, sports facilities and entertainment events attracting young families, students and seniors as well as tourists from all over the globe.
The Tompkins Square Park Dog Run was the first dog run in NYC, and spawned others. It has undergone a $150,000 renovation, much of which was funded by the NYC government and fund-raising by dog run patrons. One such fundraiser is the Halloween party the run hosts and is the biggest dog Halloween party in the United States, boasting an annual attendance of more than 400 dogs in costume and 2,000 spectators.
Among many events held in the park, is the outdoor very colourful drag festival "Wigstock", (a play on the word Woodstock) and part of the Howl Festival. Other events include the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, the New Village Music Festival, and an annual "Riot Reunion" concert every summer called "Cracktoberfest" that features the neighborhood squatt-punk, "crack rocksteady" band Leftover Crack or one of their many other incarnations such as Choking Victim.