Anyone else here remember the Mount Pleasant/Adams Morgan riot of 1991?

Another thread here reminded me of the only large scale riot I’ve witnessed first hand – the Adams Morgan riot of '91, a vintage year for rioting. It lasted about 36 hours swirling around my neighborhood. The smell of tear gas made my eye water and my throat sore, and this up in a 6th floor apartment.

I witnessed a good portion of it from the front stoop of my apartment building on Columbia Road, along with maybe a dozen of my neighbors who also decided to watch the show. Fortunately for us, most of the rioters, and most of the cops for that matter, were pretty discriminating and no one came after us. The rioters were smashing up store fronts (and by and large leaving homes alone), the cops were smashing up rioters, and both seemed to recognize our group as non-combatants.

It was was also the only riot that I’ve ever seen where somebody (with a budget!) pre-positioned gear for the rioters. The riot started one night, and there was an eerie calm the next day and people wondered whether it would continue. During this time, I saw a panel truck driving slowly along the side street next to my building, and a couple of guys were throwing out some kind of white bundles every 10 or 20 feet onto sidewalk or yards. They turned out to be rolls of paper towels, and the rioters used them later that night as crude filters/face masks/eye wipers when they got a dose of tear gas. I looked very carefully for a note about this in the press over the next few week, but I never saw a mention. To this day I have no idea who did it or why.

I found an online photo gallery of the riots. In this one, I’m almost in the picture. The “Care” sign to the right of the pic is a drug store directly across the street from my building entrance. A couple of guys broke in at one point and started to burn it, but the owner/manager showed up and actually talked them out of it and got them to leave peacefully. And I was out on the stoop watching it. The pic is looking along Columbia Road, taken at approximately 17th street and facing toward 16th street. Also, you can look at some other pics of the riot with the arrows at the top.

I have to say it was a very interesting riot. The rioters on the second night seemed … joyful, exhilarated … not enraged. The seemed to be having a great deal of fun. And they moved in waves. Everyone in a while a mob would race by, sometimes running away from fresh waves of tear gas, sometimes for no reason at all as far as I could tell. It was oddly like the ebb and flow of congested highway traffic, where people slow down or speed up for … nobody in it really knows.

Anyone else have riot stories to share?

I was 7 years old and living in Petworth at the time so I didn’t see it first hand but I remember the adults being very worked up about it.

Yeah, I just finished a set at the old Garvin’s comedy club and me and a friend had gone up there to buy some weed on the street and was like “where is everyone?” Someone yelled out a window, “you’d better get off the street!” So I did.

ETA: This was on the first night, when the cops had shot a suspect and the rumor was that he was in handcuffs when they did it.

Boyo, regarding the riots being organized, I seem to remember that there was speculation that Salvadoran gangs were supporting them. I think it might have been MS13. Sometimes when I drive through that area now, I try to impress on my wife how much DC has changed.

I was in high school living in the Virginia suburbs when it happened. I remember watching the footage on TV and being somewhat shocked at what was happening.

Mount Pleasant/Adams Morgan has changed a lot since then. The rents and housing prices are astronomical in that area.