Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Savage City by T.J. English

The Savage City is the exploration by T.J. English of the forces driving the dynamics of New York City in the sixties and early seventies.  This was the time of hippies, peace and love, protests against Vietnam.  It was the peak of the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King, Jr. as the Afro-American spokesman.  There was also an underside; racial discrimination, the rise of the black liberation groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army to combat racisim, and the police that often were more interested in the graft they got than any kind of even-handed dispirsement of justice.

On the day Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., two white girls were murdered in their apartment. Emily Hoffert and Janice Wylie were exemplars of rich young women working on careers and their deaths were shouted from the front pages of newspapers for weeks on end. 

English uses this case as the filter through which he follows the lives of three men:

1.  George Whitmore was a young, unsophisticated black man who had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was swept up by the police in another borough and before he managed to win his freedom ten years later, had been charged with the Wylie-Hoffert murders and those of two other women.  His treatment by the police was one of the key cases that led to the establishment of the Miranda warning.

2.  Bill Phillips was a New York City policeman and part of the "blue wall".  He spent as much time finding ways to make money on his beat as he did solving crimes and was part of the corruption in the police force that became evident. 

3.  Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a black man hardened by his time in prison, was an influential member of the NYC Black Panther party.  His views on the white police and power structure led him to a series of crimes that controlled his life.

T.J. English has done a masterful job of research these divergent lives and bringing them together into a cohesive whole to explain the environment of these times and the factors that influenced everyday life.  This book is recommended to those interested in reading how social mores influence our lives, as well as those who lived through these turbulent times.

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