Monday, January 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Savage City


Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge
Author: English, T.J.

Review Date: January 15, 2011
Publication Date: March 15, 2011

Superior chronicle of the most violent decade in New York City history.

Through a crisp journalistic lens, English (Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution, 2008, etc.) retraces the tormented life of three men who proved pivotal in Manhattan’s “now-legendary descent into mayhem” from the early ’60s to the mid ’70s, as the struggling civil-rights movement battled a corrupt, brutal law-enforcement agency. Following the March on Washington in the late summer of 1963, two white Upper East Side women were found bound together, raped and brutally slashed to death. Police scrambled to bring the increasingly sensational double-homicide case to swift closure. George Whitmore, a na├»ve, 19-year-old, partially blind black laborer, was falsely identified as the perpetrator and coerced into signing a multiple-felony confession by the NYPD, then a primarily white-male “autonomous institution.” Whitmore spent a decade defending himself in the face of a merciless, unyielding justice system. English also provides a deep profile of Bill Phillips, a thieving, prejudiced, corrupt second-generation police officer, as well as of Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a fearless ex-convict and Black Panther Party. Culled from a host of wide-ranging interviews, memoirs, court-case transcripts, books, and documentary programming, the author effectively addresses key events like the 1963 Harlem Riots, the shockwaves of Malcolm X’s assassination and the Knapp Commission’s dogged scrutiny of NYPD corruption. Noting that the three centerpiece profiles he features (and the era in which they lived) are “largely forgotten today,” their separate legacies should serve as a cautionary reminder.

A comprehensive, still-shocking exhumation of racial discord in America.

16-page black-and-white photo insert. Agents: Nat Sobel and Judith Weber/Sobel Weber Associates

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