1980-88: Events Surrounding the Career of Jean-Michel Basquiat


Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States 1981-1989:

  • Announced war on drugs in 1982
  • 1986, Reagan signed a drug enforcement bill that budgeted $1.7 billion to fund the War on Drugs and specified a mandatory minimum penalty for drug offenses

The fall of the Berlin wall, November 9th 1989

The Second Cold War 1975-1991:

  • War in Afghanistan from 1978, US helped against Soviet forces
  • Boycott of 1980 Moscow Olympics
  • September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007
  • 1987 Reagan and Gorbachev sign Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF)
  • 1988 Soviet Union withdraw from Afghanistan

Iran-Iraq War 1980-88


December 8th, John Lennon is shot outside his home in Manhattan

Murders of African-Americans in ‘white’ neighborhoods: Willie Turks in the Graves end section of Brooklyn in 1982; Michael Griffith in Howard Beach, Queens in 1986; and Yusef Hawkins in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood in 1989

September 15, 1983 – Michael Stewart (graffiti artist) is allegedly beaten into a coma by New York Transit Police officers. Stewart died 13 days later from his injuries at Bellevue Hospital. On November 24, 1985, after a six-month trial, six officers were acquitted on charges stemming from Stewart’s death SEE SEPARATE BLOG POST

October 29, 1984 – 66-year old Eleanor Bumpurs is shot and killed by police as they tried to evict her from her Bronx apartment. Bumpurs, who was mentally ill, was wielding a knife and had slashed one of the officers. The shooting provoked heated debate about police racism and brutality. In 1987 officer Stephen Sullivan was acquitted on charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide stemming from the shooting

December 22, 1984: Bernhard Goetz, the ‘Subway Vigilante’ shot four young black men on a New York subway train when they allegedly tried to mug him. He was charged with attempted murder but a jury found him not guilty.  In 1996, one of the shot men, who had been left paraplegic and brain damaged as a result of his injuries, obtained a civil judgment of $43 million against Goetz.

April 17, 1985 – Mark Davidson, high school student, was arrested and tortured in Queens 106th Precinct on drug dealing charges.

June 12, 1985 Edmund Perry, returning graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., is shot to death in Harlem by undercover officer Lee Van Houten after Perry and his brother, Jonah, attacked Van Houten to get money for a movie. Van Houten was acquitted the following month.

December 16, 1985 – Mob boss Paul Castellano is shot dead in a gangland execution on E. 46th Street in Manhattan.

July 7, 1986 – A deranged man, Juan Gonzalez, wielding a machete kills 2 and wounds 9 on the Staten Island Ferry. In 2000 Gonzalez was granted unsupervised leave from his residence at the Bronx Psychiatric Hospital.[76]

August 26, 1986 – The “preppie murder”: 18-year old student Jennifer Levin is murdered by Robert Chambers in Central Park after the two had left a bar to have sex in the park. The case was sensationalized in the press and raised issues over victims’ rights, as Chambers’ attorney attempted to smear Levin’s reputation to win his client’s freedom.

September 26, 1986 – The death of Oswaldo Gonzalez. Killed execution style in Brooklyn, NY. Drug related.

November 19, 1986 – 20-year old Larry Davis (criminal) opens fire on NYPD officers attempting to arrest him in his sister’s apartment in the Bronx. Six officers were wounded, and Davis eluded capture for the next 17 days, during which time he became something of a folk hero in the neighborhood. Davis was stabbed to death in jail in 2008.

December 20, 1986 – A white mob in Howard Beach, Queens, attacks three African-American men whose car had broken down in the largely white neighborhood. One of the men, Michael Griffith is chased onto Shore Parkway where he is hit and killed by a passing car. The killing prompted several tempestuous marches through the neighborhood led by Al Sharpton.

May 19, 1987 – 11-year old Juan Perez is mauled and killed by two polar bears after he and his friends sneak into the enclosure at the Prospect Park Zoo that night.[77]

July 9, 1987 – 12-year-old Jennifer Schweiger, a girl afflicted with Down Syndrome, is abducted and murdered in Staten Island by a sex offender and suspected mass murderer, Andre Rand.

November 2, 1987 – Joel Steinberg and his lover Hedda Nussbaum are arrested for the beating and neglect of their 6-year old adopted daughter Lisa Steinberg who died two days later from her injuries. The case provoked outrage that did not subside when Steinberg was released from prison in 2004 after serving 15 years.


  • 1980: 1814
  • 1981: 1826
  • 1982: 1668
  • 1983: 1622
  • 1984: 1450
  • 1985: 1384
  • 1986: 1582
  • 1987: 1672
  • 1988: 1896




The city outlawed discrimination against gay and lesbian people in such matters as employment and housing in 1986

‘Crack Epidemic’ in New York and across the USA: According to New York Senator Charles Schumer in a statement made in August 2004, “Twenty years ago, crack was headed east across the United States like a Mack truck out of control, and it slammed New York hard because we just didn’t see the warning signs.”

Def Jam Recordings established 1983

1986 The New York Mets win Baseball World Series