Shoe Leather

By Columbia Journalism School

Listen to a podcast, please open Podcast Republic app. Available on Google Play Store.

Category: History

Open in Apple Podcasts

Open RSS feed

Open Website

Rate for this podcast

Subscribers: 8
Reviews: 0
Episodes: 44


Shoe Leather is an investigative podcast that goes behind the scenes of forgotten stories that shaped New York City. Go along with the team as they knock on doors and track down the people who were at the center of the news. This season we are focusing on the events leading up to the Tompkins Square Park Police Riot that began the night of August 6, 1988. Prior to that night, people living in the neighborhood had complained that drug dealers, the unhoused and “punks” had taken over the park. In response, local government officials ordered a 1 a.m. curfew to be enforced by police. A rally to protest the curfew was held that night and violence ensued. Police officers openly beat protestors and bystanders. More than 100 complaints of police brutality were filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board. Find out what really happened that night, and how it forever changed the Lower East Side.

Episode Date
Who’s Afraid Of Antonio Pagan?
In the 1980s and 90s, controversial City Councilperson Antonio Pagan was loved and hated by the Lower East Side. And while his political career was short-lived, his complicated legacy lives on. 35 years later, we want to know: was Antonio Pagan to blame for one of the worst police riots in New York City's history?
May 12, 2023
The Butcher Of Tompkins Square Park
Daniel Rakowitz would often wander around Tompkins Square park holding a Bible and carrying a live rooster.  Everyone in the neighborhood knew him, or knew of him. In 1989 - Daniel would go on trial for the brutal and complicated murder of Monika Beerle. Turns out, he'd told people he was going to kill her. So, why didn't anyone listen? This episode is “The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park.”
May 12, 2023
Over 400 police officers clashed with 200 civilians on the streets of the Lower East Side, in the late hours of August 6, 1988. Ralph Grasso, a retired NYPD officer, take us back to one of the most notorious nights in New York city history, the Tompkins Square park riot. Months after the riot, Ralph himself was in deep trouble. In this episode, we hear an NYPD’s perspective of what happened the night policing and crowd control methods changed forever. It was a year where hand held video cameras were used, where hours of footage captured behaviour that left a stain on the NYPD for a long time to come.
May 11, 2023
ACT UP, Fight Back
Andy Velez was a co-founder of ACT UP, a legendary activist group known for its willingness to take practically any nonviolent action to fight AIDS. At the same time ACT UP was making itself known, New York City’s lower east side was changing fast. Neighborhoods that once belonged to artists and punks were lost to developers and yuppies. In this episode, Ryan Kilkenny and Jiayu Liang look at the culture of protest Andy helped create, and how Andy’s son Ben would pick these values up and bring them to a different cause in the summer of 1988. This episode uses material from Andy Velez’s ACT UP Oral History. You can access all 187 member interviews at
May 10, 2023
The Party’s Over
Months after the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riot, a TV news report blamed some of the violence from that night on a local punk band called Missing Foundation. Led by artist Peter Missing, the band was known for trashing venues, spreading anti-gentrification slogans, and – according to the TV report – even had Satanic beliefs. In this episode, Lindsey Choo and Patrick Hagan set out to learn who Peter Missing was and what role he played in the riot, if any.
May 09, 2023
Where The Riot Ended
On the night of August 6th, 1988 a police riot erupted in NYC's Tompkins Square Park — the heartland of punk music, anarchy and activism in the Lower East Side. The riot ended when protesters broke through the lobby of the Christodora House. This episode covers how one building became the symbol of class warfare in the 80s.
May 09, 2023
The Miracle Baby
On September 10, 2001, New York City newspapers reported that a newborn baby girl was found alone on a rock in Central Park — with her umbilical cord and placenta still attached. They said the baby was abandoned. And the mother could potentially face charges for leaving her child unsafe in one of the biggest parks in the world. Around the same time, New York had just enacted the Abandoned Infant Protection Act, which allowed a mother to legally and safely relinquish her child to a fire department, police department, hospital or church. People around the city wondered: Why wouldn't the baby's mom take advantage of the law, known as the Safe Haven law, and save herself the trouble? "The Miracle Baby" is about the journey of two curious reporters searching for the baby born just before 9/11, also looking to find out what societal conditions would lead a mom to feel like abandonment was the only choice. They encounter a world of inaccurate reporting, a man who helps deliver babies for a living, and a now 20-year-old woman who may or may not know her origin story.
May 20, 2022
That’s so 9/10
In 2001, fashion week began with big budgets, colorful collections and extravagant parties. It was a much anticipated season - fashion magazines had predicted it to be the biggest yet. But on the morning of its fifth day all of that changed. In this episode, we go back in time to look at how the fashion industry reacted to the September 11 attacks. We wanted to know, during times of social and political disruption, is fashion a distraction or is there something helpful — perhaps necessary — about it? From the 9/11 attacks, to war, to a worldwide pandemic, how does fashion reflect the time we live in? To find out, we talked to designers Kenneth Cole, Liz Lange and Adam Lippes among others. Does fashion reflect society? Does it have the power to soothe and help heal crisis driven era’s?
May 17, 2022
The Almost Mayor
September 11, 2001 was supposed to be primary day in New York City.  As the divisive tenure of Mayor Rudy Giuliani was winding down, the city seemed poised to elect a more inclusive mayor. The Democratic frontrunner, progressive Mark Green, appeared to fit the part.  But when the Twin Towers went down, voting in the primary was halted. In the following weeks, many New Yorkers embraced Giuliani, who was anointed America’s Mayor. In this new, unknown New York, there were no certainties. The moment of unity before the attacks was lost. And instead of Green, New Yorkers elected a little-known Republican billionaire named Mike Bloomberg. This is a story about how our principles are tested in times of crisis.
May 16, 2022
The Disappeared
On the night of September 10th, Sneha Philip went shopping, then stayed out for the night. In upstate New York, Juan Lafuente rested before a morning commute to Wall Street. A mother in Mexico looked forward to a weekly call from her son, Fernando Molinar, one of a number of undocumented immigrants worked in or…
May 13, 2022
The Party
On the morning of September 11, 2001, news trucks lined the driveway of Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y. Reporters were on campus covering one of the biggest stories of the day. A group of football players had thrown a party that triggered a national media storm. The story launched the suburban high school…
May 12, 2022
The Other Hijacker
In 1971, Patrick Critton helped rob a bank as part of a Black separatist group and, to escape capture, became the first person to successfully hijack a plane in Canada. He spent 30 years on the run until he was arrested and pleaded not guilty on Sept. 10, 2001. Less than 24 hours later, the 9/11 attacks left him as an ironic footnote in history. "The Other Hijacker” is a story about dedication and pursuit, about how far people are willing to go – and what they’re willing to sacrifice – for their beliefs. But it's also about identity and redemption, about how the only way to determine a legacy is to keep writing the next chapter. For more information about “The Other Hijacker,” including photos, videos and references, visit our website
May 10, 2022
The Bronx is Burning
During the 1970s – for the whole decade – the Bronx suffered an epidemic of fires and abandonment. This destroyed over 80 percent of the South Bronx housing stock making it look like a bombed out city during World War II. What exactly caused this? Some blamed its residents, others blamed the landlords. In 1975, Gelvin Stevenson, a Bronx economist and journalist tried to sound the alarm by telling the story of one building on one boulevard that once promised the American Dream — but then succumbed to abandonment; Roosevelt Gardens on the Grand Concourse. In this episode, we investigate the toxic mix of invisible factors that turned the Bronx into a tinderbox
May 30, 2021
Whatever Happened to Robert Davis?
In 1978, Robert Davis was the youngest child to ever be sent to New York’s Rikers' Island Jail. He was Black, from the Bronx, and only thirteen. In this episode we look into Robert Davis’s life. We explore his old neighborhood in the South Bronx, his old middle school, and the media frenzy that surrounded his case. We explore how Robert was sucked into a riptide of tough-on-crime political theater that had consumed the country and New York City. And we try to find out where he ended up four decades later, long after his story had faded from the limelight and the city had forgotten his name.
May 18, 2021
The Fight for Sydenham Hospital
In the 1970s, New York City was broke. Today, we know the city eventually bounced back, but at what cost? When a city is broke, who pays?
May 17, 2021
The Woman in the Hat
In 1970, Bella Abzug took on an incumbent Democratic Congressman––and won. A tough Jewish lawyer raised in the Bronx, Bella would become one of the icons of second-wave feminism, passing laws that changed the lives of men and women. 50 years after she first ran for Congress, Bella has had a resurgence. In the past few years there have been plays, movies, and TV shows about her life. Why does she still spark such fascination today? How did she rise to power so quickly? And why didn’t she stay in office longer? All we’ll say for now is that everyone we interviewed for this podcast couldn’t stop talking as soon as we said the words “Bella Abzug.”
May 15, 2021
Nasty Weather
On March 6, 1970, a townhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village blew up. After unearthing large quantities of dynamite in the wreckage, local officials determined that the townhouse’s basement had been used as a makeshift bomb factory. Three people died in the explosion and the two women who survived would be on the run for the rest of the decade. They were a group of white, upper class, twenty-somethings, who only a few years before demonstrated in peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. What drove them to start building bombs in the basement of a Greenwich Village townhouse? The answer begins on college campuses in the late sixties.
May 11, 2021
Keep Your Mouth Shut
On the night of July 13, 1977, a citywide power failure plunged New York’s ten million residents into darkness. Chaos ensued. There was looting in every borough, with hundreds of fires set and thousands of arrests — but just one murder. The victim was 17-year-old Brooklyn native Dominick Ciscone. Over 40 years later, the Ciscone case is still unsolved, despite multiple witnesses, decades of police attention, and even some anonymous tips. Because that murder might not have been part of the Blackout’s chaos at all — it might have been planned, not by someone who anticipated the power going out, but by someone who saw an opportunity to kill in the dark.
May 11, 2021
The Legend of Guy Fisher and the Apollo Theater
The Apollo Theater — the venue that shaped 20th-century Black music more than any other — shut its doors in the mid-1970s and stayed closed for years. It almost disappeared for good. But a mysterious buyer purchased the theater and reopened it in 1978. According to unofficial histories of the Apollo, the new owner was a man named Guy Fisher, one of the biggest heroin kingpins New York City has ever seen. The official history of the Apollo doesn’t ever mention Guy Fisher, and we wanted to know why. Our investigation uncovered a story of ambition. Of a love triangle. Of violence. And of redemption.
May 10, 2021
Trailer S2 New York: Drop Dead
In season two, New York Drop Dead, reporters step back into the 1970s. They go beyond the bell bottoms and disco to explore what made this decade notorious in New York’s history. A decade in which the Big Apple went by a far more sinister nickname — Fear City. The city was broken and broke. When city officials asked the federal government for a bailout — President Gerald Ford told them they were on their own. The next day the New York Daily News ran the now infamous front page headline– Ford to City: Drop Dead. It was the decade the lights went out and The Bronx was burning. When peaceful protestors turned to making bombs, when the legendary Apollo Theater nearly closed for good and the man who saved it went to prison. The decade in which women’s rights would take center stage. Find out how things have changed since the 1970s – and how they’ve stayed the same.
May 10, 2021
The Indian Godfather
In the 1990s, in the shadow of the FBI’s large-scale takedown of New York’s most infamous mafia family, an Indian immigrant was quietly building his own criminal organization. Gurmeet Singh Dhinsa came to the United States from the Punjab region of India
May 14, 2020
The Accident
On a hot summer night in 1991, seven-year-old cousins Gavin and Angela were getting ready to play. Gavin was undoing his bike chain while Angela eagerly stood nearby. Only a few moments separated them from Yosef Lifsh’s car and what would soon become one of the worst periods of unrest New York City has ever seen. In this episode, we go back to that fateful accident that sparked what many know as the Crown Heights Riots. Over the next three days, this Brooklyn neighborhood fell into chaos with residents, police and community leaders clashing. In looking back at what happened on August 19th, 1991, we explore Crown Heights itself, a neighborhood with many cultures and communities living side by side and ask: why did this happen and how did it get so bad?
May 13, 2020
The Baby Napping
In the late afternoon of February 3, 1990, two-day-old Steven Lyons was kidnapped from a Brooklyn hospital— a feat that seems nearly impossible with hospital security measures in 2020. Now, 30 years later, Shoe Leather reporters, Rachel and Elize, follow in the footsteps of the brazen baby-napper with the help of news archives, child abduction experts, and social media. To read the full transcript, visit
May 13, 2020
The Abortion Pill
In the 1990’s, one organization dedicated a decade of work to gain FDA approval of a drug that promised to revolutionize abortion in America. Shoe Leather: the Abortion Pill follows the Population Council’s effort to bring mifepristone – and medical abortion – to the United States. Three decades later, we’ll relive the fight alongside those who were in the center of the ring and explore why some are still waiting for that revolution to arrive.
May 07, 2020
Happy Land
On March 25, 1990 eighty-seven people died when the Happy Land Social Club burned. After Julio Gonzalez argued with his girlfriend he bought a gallon of gasoline and set the club on fire. Until the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 the Happy Land fire was the deadliest mass murder in US history. Though the tragedy has mostly slipped through the cracks of collective consciousness, for those who lost loved ones in the fire, it remains a part of their lives. This is a story of community, loss, memory, and resilience. This is Happy Land.
May 07, 2020
A Renaissance of Mysterious Circumstances
“I start with a blank and there’s nothing more horrifying than a blank canvas” — artist Lee Krasner. New York City, December 1990: thieves stole four paintings in a span of five days. Nearly thirty years later, one of the recovered paintings made history at a Sotheby’s auction. This is the story of those thefts—and one artist’s revival.
May 07, 2020
The Murder of Bruce Bailey
Bruce Bailey was a tenants rights activist who dedicated his life to fighting landlords on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. He was a husband, a father, a graduate of Columbia College, and in June of 1989, he was brutally murdered. His dismembered body was found in trash bags on a street corner in the South Bronx. And his case was never solved. We set out to find the story behind Bailey’s killing. What could have motivated someone to murder and mutilate an activist? How has this case stayed cold for three decades? And what is Bruce Bailey’s legacy, thirty years after his death? To read the full transcript, visit
May 07, 2020
Shoe Leather is an investigative podcast that goes behind the scenes of seven forgotten stories that shaped New York City. In Season 1, New York in the 90s, you’ll hear about an unsolved murder, a multi-million-dollar art heist, an Indian mob boss, stolen babies, and a pill that promised to revolutionize abortion in America. Go along with the team as they knock on doors and track down the people who were at the center of the story. Shoe Leather is produced by reporters at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Apr 23, 2020