In The Savage City by T.J. English, the author has written an impressive narrative that exposes the gritty side of New York City. Starting with two seemingly unrelated events that occurred on August 28, 1963, Mr. English explores the issues of race, class, criminal justice, and corruption in one of the most volatile periods in New York City history, allowing the city to earn the name, The Savage City. One event is the Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which inspired action and hope in many Americans to initiate change to make the nation a better place. The other event is the murder of two young white, professional women in their Manhattan apartment, a gruesome crime given the name, The Career Girls Murder case, which put fear in the hearts of many New Yorkers who felt they were no longer safe.
The Savage City unravels this painful tale through the lives of three diverse men - who never met each other, yet each was part of this landscape and had very public faces/roles. The most tragic figure of the three is George Whitmore Jr., who is 19 years old when he is arrested and charged in the Career Girls Murder, not because he is guilty but because he is naïve and the police is all powerful and only wants to check this case off the list. Bill Phillips is a second-generation cop, who cannot wait to get to shake down businesses and police to supplement his measly police salary, but will his brazenness and police honor code allow him to avoid public scrutiny. For Dhoruba bin Wahad finding few opportunities for a young, black male turns to petty crime and is incarcerated where his introspectiveness leads him to militant activism and one of the founders of the New York Black Panthers party. Through the vibrant voices of the three men, and the well-written narrative, I was able to be caught up in the swirl of police brutality and the racial unrest that were so part of the lives of many black Americans that lived during this time. Change is always difficult, and unfortunately, usually involves violence to make the necessity of change understood. All three of the men did spend time in prison and are alive today, and it would be interesting to hear their voices and views today on how much change has taken place, as cases of uncalled for police brutality have surfaced over the last couple of years.
I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the history of this era, and especially for those who thought that the battlefields of the Civil Rights and black militarism were taking place in the South and West.
This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Reviewed by Beverly