These days Tompkins Square Park looks like a tranquil oasis.

But 30 years ago, it was a battleground, when police, including officers on horses, forcefully responded to a protest against a new 1 a.m. city curfew there. 

"The police came in waves and just started beating everybody in sight, everything that moved," said Chris Flash, who took part in the demonstration. "They started beating indiscriminately."

Tensions had been smoldering for some time between squatters living in abandoned buildings and wealthier newcomers, many of them living in the Christodora, a doorman condo that had come to symbolize the gentrification and income inequality taking hold. 

Protesters called the new residents "yuppie scum." 

"We weren't the first in the country to talk about gentrification. We were the loudest," said housing squatter Jerry Wade, who goes by the name Jerry the Peddler. "I'd like to think we put gentrification on America's lips."

For some longtime residents, gentrification wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Many middle class families thought the park had become overrun with homeless people, drugs and noisy concerts and needed to be cleaned up. 

The early signs of gentrification weren't necessarily a bad thing to some residents who complained about homeless people, drugs and noisy concerts in the park.

Ada Calhoun grew up nearby and wrote the book "St. Marks is Dead."

"People didn't want the neighborhood to lose its character," Calhoun said. "They didn't want the artists not to be able to afford to live here, but they wanted their kids to be able to play in the park."  

On August 6, 1988, squatters, activists and homeless people gathered in the park to demonstrate against the curfew. The protest quickly turned violent when demonstrators clashed with police. Dozens of people were injured.

Documentary filmmaker Clayton Patterson captured the melee on tape. 

"Some cops had, you know, no badges on them. You could see that in the tape. You could see the badge numbers were covered with little pieces of tape," recalled Patterson. "They were ready to rumble."

The police officers involved in the riot were harshly criticized by a city report released shortly after the melee, but in the end only about a dozen of them were disciplined. Civil liberties groups complained the city was too easy on its own police force, a complaint that helped fuel the successful push for a tougher Civilian Complaint Review Board. 

As for the curfew, the city quickly dropped it, but protests continued for years.  Finally, in 1991, the city cleared out the homeless, erected fencing and began renovating the park. Now, it is all cleaned up and closes at midnight.  

Some of the squatters, like Jerry the Peddler, eventually struck a deal with the city to take ownership of 11 buildings. They were able to stay in the neighborhood, while others were pushed out by higher rents. 

"It was a losing battle to begin with. We all kind of knew that," he said. "But it was a battle we had to fight."

The forces of gentrification have since moved on to other neighborhoods across the five boroughs, and concerns about income inequality have grown.

The East Village is home to boutiques, $5 cups of coffee, multimillion dollar apartments - and a park that bears no sign of the rioting that occurred 30 years ago.