Thursday, May 29, 2008

When Suburbanites Riot

Remembering 1979.

Twenty-nine years ago, service-station owner Steven Lankin watched as a summer-night Levittown crowd seething over gas rationing, two-hour lines at the pumps, and a then-stunning hike to $1 a gallon turn violent.

What began as a truckers' gas-crisis protest lasted two nights, June 23 and 24, 1979. It drew thousands of people and left 100 people injured, nearly 200 arrested, and one Shell station shattered in the first gasoline revolt in American history.


In the riots, car tires and a junked car were burned in the streets, Philadelphia and state police officers were bused in, and most of the gas stations at the intersection were vandalized. Police-brutality lawsuits were filed and eventually settled for $154,000. And national attention was drawn to a community founded as an iconic planned suburb in the early 1950s to embrace a car-centric vision of the American Dream.

"Social disorder in Levittown? The postwar era really has ended," George F. Will wrote in Newsweek after the riots.