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Christmas Music: Reasons to Be Cheerful

Christmas music is the only pop genre that finds Renata Scotto, the Carpenters, the Gospel Keynotes, John Denver, Joan Baez, and the Drifters recording the same material. It’s the only genre that allows the ghosts of pop music past to resurface once a year and sit side-by-side with today’s new Christmas product as tacky reminders of the eternal. But as the music of the only national holiday with any meaning, the tensions it must contain have been heightened by Reagan’s advent. The family and is idealized as it collapses; both charity and greed coexist with interest rates that make either impossible; material abun­dance in a sputtering economy mixes with the subversive poverty of the nativity. Middle America yearns for a traditional national patriotic Christian culture that never existed. The best gifts come from Japan.

But I like Christmas music. I like the schlock and I like the religion. I like sen­timental innocence and I like trancing out on the same standards sung and resung. I’m charmed by pop music when it’s “try­ing to say more,” and I’m moved by the spirit.

The Beach Boys are my favorite group and so their old Christmas album is my favorite. It’s really pretty good — one side of reverential high-pop five-part harmony and one side of effortless low-pop early­-Brian-Wilson goofs. But you might have someone you like better whose version of “White Christmas” you prefer. Who’s to say? It’s hard to make a bad album when you’ve got such great material.

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But not impossible. Although there’s no definitive version of “Silent Night,” that doesn’t mean all versions of “Silent Night” are equally good. Some Christmas music has all the durability of last year’s elec­tronic game or kitchen appliance and all the emotional depth of Christmas at the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Illinois, with the Ordinary People. It’s a time for celebration, but also for fly-by-­night rip-off quickies. So here, with what I sincerely hope is the right mix of Christian charity and obsessed consumerism, is a guide to some of the season’s better music:

Merle Haggard’s Christmas Present (Capitol). This was the record Willie Nelson was supposed to make and didn’t. While Nelson was breathing life and mean­ing back into pop oldies on Stardust and Over the Rainbow and doing likewise to old white gospel on Family Bible, he re­corded Pretty Paper, an unadorned and largely lackluster collection of chestnuts and carols. I guess it didn’t remind him of any roots. So who would have thought Haggard could be so moving singing “Sil­ver Bells”? But Merle sings the non-coun­try standards with the same cool convic­tion and authority he projects whenever he cares about the material. And reads the lyrics as if they have content, rather than with the middle-of-the-road reverence that defeats Christmas albums by Anne Murray, Emmylou Harris (excepting the bluegrass), the Carpenters, and (almost) Kenny Rogers (who gets high marks for letting his schlocky reach exceed his crossover grasp). Haggard’s other trick is the dispassionate down-but-not-out re­alism of his Christmas hit, “If We Make It Through December.” Christmas music often sentimentalizes poverty (cf. Rogers), but Haggard doesn’t So he earns the right to the sticky sentiments on his other com­positions, and so do we. Lefty Frizzell meets Bing Crosby. Better than both.

Merry Christmas-Feliz Navidad from Freddy Fender (ABC/Dot). One would think that country music, with its fearless corniness and good-hearted pathos, could easily penetrate to the heart of the season the way this album does. But I don’t know another country album as good as this one. One problem is that the season’s pop stan­dards are about cities in the 1940s up north — all that snow, all those violins. An­other is that the religious standards are largely northern mainstream Protestant rather-than Southern gospel. And upscale schlocky reverence is boring, not to men­tion contradictory — Charley Pride’s problem, and Slim Whitman’s too (although Slim gets the so-bad-it’s-good award.) Mickey Gilley comes closest to Freddy at reworking Christmas in a Texas context. But he’s not as crazy as cousin Jerry Lee (or Jimmy Swaggart), and so doesn’t really break through to the cosmic shallowness implied by Christmas at Gilley’s (his up­scale redneck Houston singles bar, site of Urban Cowboy), although it’s a concept worth contemplating.

Maybe it’s Freddy’s bilingual Tex-Mex distance which gives him the edge — a touch of folky authenticity. While we’re at it, let’s pause in the middle of this Anglo-­orgy to mention the large part of NYC celebrating Christmas en Espanol. Two re­cords worth checking out are Willie Colon, Asalto Navideno (salsa) and Felicidades en Navidad y Ana Nuevo con German Rosario (Puerto Rican country music, so to speak). At better record stores everywhere and thanks to Ramon Gonzalez-Sanchez for pointing them out.

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Traditional Christmas Carols, Pete Seeger (Folkways FAS 32311). It takes a Marxist New England WASP to remind us that carols are part of a folk tradition. That they rework Christian and pre-Chris­tian folk imagery about the meaning of life, not the meaning of respectability. The singing and banjo accompaniment here are as offhand as on something like Gazette, Vol II. That is, perfect. Simplicity, tradi­tion, intelligence, a little piety maybe, but no straight laces. These are ideas John Den­ver almost grasps on his two (!) Christmas Albums, but loses when he tries to sing those carols as if he can really hit all the notes on pitch. Sorry John, a little too much virtue, or is it inhibition? (Go out of your way to skip the one with the Muppets, unless someone five years old insists.) Joan Baez veers off for a wild ride with respect­ability on her by now oldie Christmas package. For true believers and sentimen­tal fools only. But Uncle Pete, on this hard-to-find, but in print LP, once again shows them what it’s all about.

Rhythm and Blues Christmas and The Twelve Hits of Christmas (United Artists). Anthologies, anthologies, anthologies. Christmas music has plenty of them, and most are pretty bad. Watch out for the country, soul, and gospels ones in particular. These two are done with care, sometimes hard to find, not discounted much, and really worth buying. After all, isn’t a record that follows Eartha Kitt with Gene Autry what Christmas is all about? The old Motown anthology floating around under various titles is worth a lis­ten, but it’s no way close to these. Ditto recent releases by the Whispers and the Tempts, and older ones from the Su­premes and Stevie Wonder.

The Sinatra Christmas Album (Capitol). Need a last-minute present for Dad? Go ahead, this one’s safe. After all, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is Sinatra’s song and the album is all of a piece. Nat King Cole’s is okay too, but this one has the same appeal as Merle Hag­gard’s — a realistic feel anchoring the sentiment. It’s not my music, but I hear regret and World War II here, and that makes the reassurance it projects more believable. It also makes me hope the record stores place this next to the country-crossing-over-to-­pop adult-contemporary middle-of-the­-road easy-listening Christmas albums, so those unsure middle-aged suburbanites can just reach for the real thing. Which ia not, by the way, any Christmas album with Frank’s face on it. Look for Capitol and “chorus and orchestra conducted by Gordon Jenkins.”

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Phil Spector’s Christmas Album a/k/a A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records. Christmas is schlocky and vulgar. Christmas is American. And Christmas was pre-rock pop until this album made Christmas rock and roll. I hate to admit it, but this does deserve its reputation. It’s exuberant and it holds together. Spector went after the schlock and the corniness and Spector won. And Christmas schlock is heavy. Christmas schlock is big. You can hear Elvis tangle with it, go 12 cuts, and get TKO’d on his Wonderful World of Christ­mas, perhaps the ultimate bad Elvis album. But one cavil amid the auteur ac­colades. The current reissue features Phil or a Phil lookalike in a Santa suit. The original pictured Darlene Love, the Crystals, the Ronettes, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Phil’s productions goes after and gets the drama of the schlock but it’s the sincere innocence of the singing that captures and holds the emotion as its core. Leon Russell and Sonny Bono were musicians on these sessions. Can you imagine it with them singing?

The Ventures Christmas Album (Liberty). The endless repetition of the music lends itself both to attempts at recapturing the feeling and to giving up altogether, to just enjoying the surfaces. My favorite in this vein plays a game of starting with a familiar intro riff, like the one from “Memphis” or “Tequila,” and then laying a Christmas classic over that. The poet’s job is to make it new, right? Also noteworthy are the Muzaky wit on Herb Alpert’s Christmas album (A&MJ and the easygoing disco reggae of Joe Gibbs Family Wish You a Merry Rockers Christmas (Joe Gibbs). Also John Fahey’s guitar noodling (Takoma). Notably failures — the Boston Pops, too dramatic this time around, sorry, and Both the Salsoul you-call-this-disco? washed out Christmas Jollies albums (and the 12-inch single). Grace Jones, where are you now that we need you? Or better yet, how about Xmas Bits and Pieces? And nice try but n.g., Kurtis Blow.

Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Mahalia Jack­son (Columbia). All Mahalia Jackson Christmas gospel albums are not this Mahalia Jackson Christmas gospel album. Which, like most of her recorded work, is inexcusably sweetened with strings and pitched toward a taste white folks don’t even have anymore. But it’s a real album, not a spliced-together rip off of gospel out­takes — the singing is great and the message redeemed. Also worth checking out, if not as consistent, are Christmas with the Keynotes (Nashboro), cut when Paul Beasley was still their falsetto, and The Gospel Soul of Christmas (Mistletoe), if just for the Swan Silvertones’ “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

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A Christmas Record (ZE). The cheap shot for a punk/new-waver would be to mock the emptiness of most Christmas sentiment. The real trick is to reinvent the innocence, which this hard-to-believe col­lection of all-new songs does. I like every track, from August Darnell’s somewhat predictable urban-sophisticate “Christ­mas on Riverside Drive” to Was (Not Was)’s unemployed “Christmas Time in the Motor City.” I was charmed by Chris­tina’s we’re-so-jaded “Things Fall Apart” and the Waitresses’ alone-in-the-big-city “Christmas Wrapping.” And (honest, I don’t know him) Davitt Sigerson’s “It’s a Big Country” should be covered by Arlo Guthrie and become a big hit. This record isn’t just interesting — it’s tuneful, it’s America, Christmas, 1981, fantasy and reality, and it’s the perfect gift for anyone from 15 to 40. It’s also only available as an English import, so if you do manage to find it, you’ll have to pay too much. Merry Christmas.

Singles. The only good ones that aren’t on the UA anthologies are the Kinks’ tough ”Father Christmas,” the Eagles’ “Please Come Home for Christmas” (for the cover photo), and “Don Charles Presents the Singing Dogs, directed by Carl Weismann with Instrumental Accomp. Jingle Bells” (RCA), which is a must. Hon-est.

And one last word. Somewhere out there must be a great Jewish record for the season. It is not, however, Barbra Streisand/A Christmas Album, which should be called Barbra Streisand/A Christian Album. “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” okay. But “Ave Maria” and “The Lord’s Prayer”? I don’t get it. Once there was something like Steve and Eydie Wish You Happy Holidays, but evidently no more. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Are you listening, Kinky Friedman? Dave Tarras? Neil Diamond?

Not to worry. The only born-again album to pass my way, On This Christmas Night, exhibited neither the vigor of intolerance nor the power of cultural ascen­dancy just slavish early-’70s soft-rock, a style I’m ordinarily not unsympathetic to. But so far, it seems the tensions that the Reagan worldview laid on Christmas music have invigorated ZE Records and made the born-agains go limp. ❅

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From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Cops Who Kill

You take the M train to Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn to reach the Bushwick-Hylan Housing Project where Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis lived until they were shot to death by police from the 83rd pre­cinct early on the morning of Saturday, October 18.

From the el platform you can see the Bushwick-Hylan Houses almost immediately across the street, Borinquen Houses to the left, the Thompkins projects behind them. On a fair day, the sun reflects off the sheet metal that covers the windows of row upon row of abandoned tene­ment houses; there is little else.

It is not a pretty place to live and it is not an easy place to survive, but within the ugly scheme of things Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble did all right. Lewis, 24, was the more successful of the two. He had finished night school at Eastern District in Brooklyn, was trained in construction work by Bronx-based Black Eco­nomic Survival, landed a con­struction job on Bushwick Av­enue, and went to work every day. Several years ago his father gave him a 1976 red two-door LTD — the car he was killed in. Ricky Lewis had no criminal record. In fact, everyone in the Bushwick-­Hylan Houses called Lewis “Civ,” short for “Civilize,” because that’s how he was, that was the effect he had on the people around him.

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Kenny Gamble, 18, dropped out of Eastern District high school in 1979, some­thing that is not surprising for black kids in New York City, particularly in poverty-­level communities like Bushwick. What was surprising was that in the fall of 1980 Kenny Gamble dropped back in, intent on graduating. Apparently school was going better for Kenny. In October he brought some school work home to show his moth­er; his grade was 88.

Kenny had been arrested twice, once at 16 for allegedly loitering in the lobby of his aunt’s apartment building at the Thomp­kins project and again at 17 as the result of a scuffle in the subway station at De­lancey Street. At the time of his murder, Kenny Gamble was on three years proba­tion on the second charge.

On Sunday, October 18, The New York Times ran an article headlined, “2 Dead, 2 Hurt, 3 Arrested After Shootout in Brooklyn.” According to the Times story, which carried no byline and quoted only police sources, plainclothes detectives Joseph Esposito and Fred Falcone were driving past The Garage, a social club on Cedar and Evergreen streets, when they heard shots and stopped to investigate. Officers Falcone and Esposito approached a group of young men outside the club, who fired at them with a shotgun. The officers returned fire and the men jumped into a car and sped away, with the officers in pursuit. They were soon joined by two other cops in a patrol car, Michael Cohen and Gaspar Cardi. According to the Times the chase ended 12 blocks later on the corner of Bushwick and McKibbin ave­nues, where the car was forced to a stop and more shots were exchanged. When the shooting stopped, Kenny Gamble and Ricky Lewis were dead. Of the four other occupants of the car, two, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thompson, were wounded, Thompson critically. Miraculously, two others who were in the car, Jackie Thomp­son and Kevin Young, escaped unharmed.

According to the survivors of the shootout on Bushwick and McKibbin and eyewitnesses to the incident, however, something very different than what the police and The New York Times say hap­pened occurred on the morning of October 18.

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Late on the night of Friday, October 17, Ricky Lewis gave 18-year-old Gary Jones a ride to the Bushwick Garage social club on Evergreen Street, about 12 blocks from the Bushwick-Hylan Houses where both lived. Gary was on his way to pick up his 14-year-old sister, Jackie “Black” Thompson was already at the club, having arrived early with his older brother, Lemuel. Also at the club, a recycled garage used as a disco on weekends, were Kevin Young and Kenny Gamble. All six lived in the Bushwick-Hylan projects and knew each other. All were unarmed.

“I was sittin’ outside in Ricky’s car and some guy came out of the club and pulled a gun on another guy,” said Jackie Thompson. He swung at him with the gun, the guy ran and he started chasin’ him and shootin’.”

When the shooting started, everyone in or near the club panicked. Some tried to get back inside, others ran for cover near the building or down the street. In the melee, Kevin Young injured his leg and Lemuel Thompson was shot as he ran to the car. Ricky Lewis offered to take Thompson and Young to Greenpoint Hos­pital. It wasn’t until the car began to pull away that Jackie Thompson and the oth­ers realized that other gunmen had also been firing. They were later identified as plainclothes cops. “They didn’t say any­thing,” says Jackie. “I didn’t even know they were shootin’ at the car until they shot out the back window.” As Ricky Lew­is prepared to pull off, Jackie Thompson, Kevin Young, and Lemuel Thompson were in the back seat. Gary Jones and Kenny Gamble, the last to get in, sat in front. At that moment, the two gunmen ran around the corner and reappeared moments later in an unmarked car. At no time, say Gary, Jackie, and other wit­nesses, did the plainclothesmen identify themselves as cops.

“We went up Evergreen and made a left on Myrtle,” says Jackie, “and they was still shootin’ at us, at the driver’s side. Their driver would pull up beside us and the other guy — he had half his body out the window — was shootin’ at Ricky’s side.”

The six young men crouched down, trying to avoid the bullets hitting the car. Lemuel Thompson, already wounded, curled into a ball in the back seat, along with his brother Jackie and Kevin Young. As the two cars sped up Myrtle, other marked patrol cars joined the chase.

“There was an unmarked car and at least two police cars on Myrtle and more cars were comin’,” says Gary Jones. “There had to be at least nine or 10 cops. See, nobody knew they [the two men in the unmarked car] were police, they didn’t say anything, they just came out and started shootin’.”

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“After we got up Myrtle and made a right on Bushwick,” continues Jackie, “another car bumped us off on Bushwick and McKibbin and we hit the johnnypump and stopped, but the cops kept firing.” Ricky Lewis’s car had come to a stop in front of the RC Supermarket at Bushwick and McKibbin, across the street from P.S. 147, the elementary school all six had attended.

“Before Civ crashed he said get down and everybody got down. Lemuel was saying, ‘Don’t get out of the car.’ The cops got out of their cars and kept firin’. I don’t know how many shots were fired because I kept my head down; I just heard a lot of shots.”

“I could hear them still shootin’ at the car,” recalls Gary Jones.”Half my body was still in the car — my legs were stuck —  and the upper half of my body was layin’ out on the sidewalk. That’s when I got hit.

“I was layin’ on the sidewalk and I looked up and saw the police comin’. They was runnin’ and firin’ away at the car. I just seen a big clump of smoke, I could see the fire jumping out the barrels, oh, man. They was stepping through the smoke and kept on firing. I didn’t expect to live. I thought they were killing everybody in the car.

“The police laughed and said, ‘They all dead,’ ” remembers Gary Jones. “I was bleedin’ from the head and one cop said, ‘This one’s dead’ and stepped on my face and then started draggin’ me out of the car. Hey, after the car bumped us I was gonna get out and put my hands up, but they was shootin’ so bad, even after I got hit in the front seat.”

Gary Jones and Jackie Thompson esti­mate that after the car hit the john­nypump and stopped the cops continued to fire at the car for at least 30 seconds, maybe a minute and a half. This was when Ricky Lewis’s head was blown open in the driver’s seat. Lemuel Thompson thinks he was hit at least once, maybe twice, in addition to the wound near his spine that he had received outside the social club. And Kenny Gamble had disappeared.

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Gloria Yournet, who lives with her husband and three daughters across from the RC Supermarket in the Borinquen Houses, saw what happened to Gamble.

Sometime around 12:30 on the morning of the shooting, Gloria’s girlfriend, sitting in her living room window smoking a cigarette, called her to “come, look out here,” gesturing out the window. “All of a sudden there was a red car coming down Bushwick,” says Gloria Yournet, hugging her arms around her as if she is cold. “There was a squad car behind the red one and an unmarked car next to it. As they were approaching McKibbin, the squad car drove onto the sidewalk by the school and the unmarked car continued to chase the red car. By that time there was a second squad car behind the red car. As the red car approached Bushwick and McKibbin, one guy jumped out with his hands up in the air. All of a sudden the cops started shooting at him, and he fell. Around five cops jumped on him, hand­cuffed him, then started kicking him all over.”

A neighbor of Gloria Yournet also saw what happened to Kenny Gamble. “I woke up around 12:40 and saw a whole lot of cops beating up on one dude,” says the woman, who was afraid of what the police might do if her name were used. Like Gloria Yournet, her apartment in the Borinquen Houses faces Bushwick and McKibbin. “There were more than 10 of them. They picked him up and hit him against the car and the ground, then they threw him in the car.” She stares out the window as if she can still see it happening. “I guess he was beaten on his head or something. They was kicking, punching, beating him with nightsticks. I heard a lot of people screaming.”

Cary Ann Stewart has lived in Bushwick-Hylan Houses for 21 years. She and her husband, who works for the Tran­sit Authority, have raised 11 children there, including eight sons. She is a tall, brown skinned, fast talking woman, still attractive after bearing so many children. As we talk, she moves around the stove and sink in the kitchen, a cigarette dangl­ing from her mouth, casually making lunch or coffee or giving instructions in an off-hand way to the children who come and go, kissing her husband a warm good­bye as he leaves for work. On the morning of October 18, Mrs. Stewart was looking out the window of her first floor apartment facing Bushwick Avenue. Earlier that evening, she had an argument with her 15-year-old son because she had refused to give him money to go to the Garage. From her window she saw a car speed past, going up Bushwick toward Greenpoint Hospital, followed by a police car. As the police car passed Moore Street, another police car appeared from the opposite direction.

“Then all I could hear was shooting, 25 or 30 shots. Police cars started coming from every direction, then there was more shooting.”

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Because Mrs. Stewart is the sort of woman who gets involved, because she has lived in the community for 21 years and knows just about everyone, and because she has sons and was afraid maybe one of them was in trouble, she pulled on her raincoat and slippers and walked down to Bushwick and McKibbin to see what was going on.

“I said to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s Ricky Lewis’s car.’ I saw three boys laying on the ground, hands cuffed behind them, laying on their stomachs. I walked over and looked at each one of them, Kevin Young, Gary Jones and Lemuel Thomp­son, and I said to the police, ‘You got the nerve to have handcuffs on him [Lemuel] and he’s shot.’ And the way he was shot­ — the bullet had ripped away his clothes, you could see the hole in him.” She shakes her head rapidly.

“The cop said, ‘Lady, get away from here, you don’t know him.’ I said. ‘What do you mean? These are our boys! What have you done to our children?’ The cop said, ‘This is my fuckin’ job, I did what I had to.’

“There was blood everywhere. The seat of the car had been torn out and there was even blood under it,” she says in disbelief. “You could see the way the car was shot up that a lot of shots had been fired. The way it looked, that cop must have pulled out his gun right then and there and shot into that car.

“They were fine boys, beautiful chil­dren,” says Mrs. Stewart of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble. “I don’t have any­thing bad to say about any of those young fellows.”

For the police of the 83rd Precinct who were involved in the shooting, Mrs. Stew­art and many others in Bushwick have nothing but a building rage. “They don’t go cruising around in now white neighbor­hoods, standing and waiting for something to happen, so why was they up there [at the club] anyway, that’s what I want to know?” she asks. “They were out looking for trouble, going into black neighbor­hoods and doing this nonsense. These boys were like mine, I seen them grow up, that’s what makes me so angry about the whole thing.”‘

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The events of the night of October 18 still haunt the people who witnessed them. For Gloria Yournet there is a recurring dream. “I dream about it almost every night,” she says bitterly, hugging her three small daughters to her as she looks down at the junction of Bushwick and McKib­bin. “Sometimes it’s my brother who jumps out of the car with his hands up, sometimes my husband or someone else I know, And then the cops just kill him, BANG, BANG, BANG!”

For Yournet’s neighbor down the hall, the horror is that of not believing her own eyes. “I seen dudes being messed with, you know, beat up by cops before,” she says, “but never anything like that. It was like something on TV, like it wasn’t real.” But this time it was and she knows it. Nothing can erase the image of 10 cops beating an already wounded Kenny Gamble to his death.

By the time the shooting stopped on Bushwick and McKibbin, Ricky Lewis, Lemuel Thompson, and Kenny Gamble were at least critically wounded. Lewis may already have been dead. Gamble, who eyewitnesses say jumped out of the car with his hands up in surrender, was beaten for several minutes and then thrown into the back of the unmarked police car, which then drove off. Police have yet to explain why the car made a U­-turn and took Kenny Gamble to Wycoff Hospital, a 15-minute ride, when Green­point, the neighborhood hospital, was only six blocks away. (Gamble was pronounced dead at four o’clock the morning of Octo­ber 18.) This remains one of the many peculiarities of the case.

Gary Jones, Kevin Young, Lemuel Thompson, and Jackie Thompson, the four men who survived the fusillade, insist that no one in the car had a shotgun or weapon of any kind. This is supported by eyewitnesses, who say they saw no guns or gunfire coming either from Lewis’s car or any of the men in the car at any time. “The people in the car didn’t have no weapons whatsoever,” Gloria Yournet says angrily. “The detective who went through the car didn’t find anything. Then all of a sudden he held up a shotgun, but the way he did it was funny because it didn’t come out of the red car. I know that because before he went into the red car he had the shotgun in his hand.” Drawing a breath, Yournet shakes her head in disgust, “he went to the back seat of the unmarked car and came out with a shotgun, then he went to the trunk and came out with something like a suitcase. He put the gun in there and he brought the suitcase to a blue-and-white police car that was park­ing and put it in the car. What they did with it after that I do not know,” she says.

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According to Gary Jones, Kevin Young, and Jackie Thompson, following the shooting they were taken to the 83rd Pre­cinct and held for nearly 24 hours. During this period they were threatened with ar­rest on a variety of charges, including assault with intent to kill a police officer, reckless driving, and resisting arrest. In actuality, none of the three was charged with anything, either that day or subse­quently.

The only person charged with any crime who was in Ricky Lewis’s car the night of October 18 is Lemuel Thompson, who was critically wounded during the police attack. On October 20, while still in the hospital, Thompson was charged with the murder in Queens last August 21 of Yat Yeung Lam during an attempted robbery of a Chinese restaurant. (A grand jury recently began hearing evidence in the case.) Thompson, his friends, and his fam­ily insist that he is not guilty of this crime. They say that the police are trying to justify killing Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble by saying they were in pursuit of a murderer. Like Jackie, Lemuel’s younger brother says, “The police didn’t know nothing about nobody in Queens until a day after they shot my brother up.”

Since the arrest of Lemuel Thompson, who recently was released from Rikers Island on $25,000 bail, and the release of Jones, Young, and Jackie Thompson, the police have been silent concerning the events on Bushwick and McKibbin. Re­peated calls to the 83rd Precinct fail to elicit answers to the most basic questions: Are there any charges against anyone ex­cept Lemuel Thompson? Where are the guns the youths allegedly fired at the police officers? What happened to the shotgun that, according to the police and The New York Times, was supposedly found at the Garage after the shooting but which Gloria Yournet says she saw a plainclothes police officer take from his car on Bushwick and McKibbin? Where are Kenny Gamble’s clothes and personal effects?

All calls to the 83rd are referred to the public information office at the NYPD and all calls there are referred to the office of Brooklyn D.A., Eugene Gold. There, Rhonda Nager, director of public information, ends all inquiries by saying, “The D.A.’s office is unable to discuss a pending investigation. I can tell you it [the investigation] involves all aspects of the incident, including wrongdoing on the part of anybody,” says Nager. When reminded of the dismal record in the city of New York and nationally involving criminal prosecution of white police officers, Nager acknowledges, with a note of apology, “There are cases in which we have ob­tained indictments and prosecuted cases and the jury has acquitted. It is not always within the power of the prosecution to do what’s right.” Nager concedes that resi­dents of black and Hispanic communities “have some legitimate complaints.”

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Twenty-four-year-old Vernon Lawrence lives in the Bushwick-Hylan Houses, grew up with Ricky Lewis, knew the five young men in the car. Lawrence is a suc­cess story in Bushwick. He graduated from Baruch College with a degree in account­ing and hopes to continue on to business school. Like Ricky Lewis, he has a good job, a nice car, goes to work every day. Lawrence and Lewis were partners, “like brothers,” is what the people who knew them say, and maybe it was only chance or luck that Vernon wasn’t in the car with Ricky on October 18.

“My mother woke me up, she was screaming, ‘I heard Ricky was shot!’ I went downstairs and saw an ambulance pulling off. There must have been 30 police cars. When I got there the police were congratulating themselves: ‘Good shooting,’ singing, ‘Another One Bites the Dust,’ and laughing,” says Lawrence, “They told one lady, ‘You don’t care about these niggers, why don’t you get out of here?’ They didn’t know everybody out there knew them. People kept telling them, ‘Leave the boys alone, why are you kicking them, why are you hurting them?’ The cops’ response was, ‘Suck my white, prick.’ A cop walked up to Gary Jones and said, ‘Goddamn, I thought I blew your head off.’ ”

Since October 18 Lawrence, in addition to working full-time at Upper Harlem Medical Associates, has worked full-time, organizing the community to protest the killing of Ricky and Kenny and the shoot­ing of the two other men. On the Sunday after the killings Lawrence and about 7o others marched in protest to the 83rd Precinct to demand information from the police. The officers at the 83rd responded by throwing eggs on the demonstrators from a second floor window.

While the mood in Bushwick runs the gamut from disbelief to despair to rage, it is characterized by a unity of outrage and a commitment to struggle until some sort of justice is done. Under Lawrence’s lead­ership, community residents have held at least two community-wide meetings a week to discuss the killings, collect evidence, and plan strategy. The strategy focuses on methods to insure that Kenny and Ricky’s killers are brought to justice and to guarantee that in the future com­munity residents are protected from those who are supposed to protect them — the police.

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On December 24, a Brooklyn grand jury, after hearing evidence concerning the events of October 18, indicted Thompson with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer in the first degree and one count of illegal weapons possession — the shotgun police say they recovered at the social club. Still, several critical questions remain unanswered: What about Gloria Yournet’s testimony that the gun did not come from Lewis’s car but from the trunk of the unmarked police car? If, as the indictment alleges, Thompson shot at the plainclothes officers outside the Garage and then dropped the shotgun, why did the police chase the car for 12 blocks, blasting away at a suspect with no weapon? Why didn’t the police officers identify themselves?

After initial reports quoting the police as saying they either “heard shots” or were fired upon by “a group of youths,” the grand jury indicted Lemuel Thompson for these acts. How the D.A. was able to identify Thompson as the one who fired the shots at the club — something the po­lice themselves could not do — also remains a mystery.

The evidence and eyewitness testimony compiled by this writer clearly do not support the indictment of Lemuel Thompson. Instead, the testimony raises serious questions as to the conduct of the four officers from the 83rd Precinct — Esposito, Cohen, Cardi, and Falcone — who were centrally involved in the shooting.

As the case now stands, the police killed Gamble and Lewis allegedly in the chase to capture Lemuel Thompson. Ac­cording to the police version of events, that Ricky and Kenny lost their lives was simply a matter of tough luck; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Community residents have called on the U.S. Attorney to begin a federal in­vestigation. As yet, there has been no response. For now, the people of Bushwick wait, caught between a rock and a hard place as they ask the systems that sanc­tion the police department to investigate the conduct of some of its officers. While their mood is not one of optimism it is also not one of despair — yet. Instead, it is the limbo of waiting and hoping so familiar to black people. “If this were happening in any other ethnic community in the city there would be an outcry by your government of­ficials,” says Vernon Mason, the 34-year-­old graduate of Morehouse College and Columbia Law School who is representing the families of the deceased. “We have heard very little from the mayor when these killings occur, we have not heard any outcry from the local churches except in the black communities across the board. We have not had any response from syn­agogues, rabbis, the Council of Churches, from ministers throughout the city,” con­tinues Mason, who as general counsel to the National Conference of Black Law­yers, an organization of progressive black attorneys, is familiar with these cases. “There has been no response. We have requested that the Justice Department investigate after all these killings, and there has been no response.”

“It might be a surprise to me because it’s my son,” says Kenny Gamble’s moth­er. A school aide for eight years, the last three at Sarah J. Hale High School in Brooklyn, Mrs. Gamble looks almost like a teenager herself. Her husband, Walter, has been a mail carrier with the post office for 11 years. “But it’s just like Luis Baez [killed in August 1979 by Brooklyn police after they were summoned by his mother whom the mentally ill Baez was menacing with a pair of scissors.] Do you mean the police couldn’t just wrestle him down? Just like Elizabeth Magnum, who wanted to stay, in her house. Next thing you know, she’s dead [killed by Brooklyn police in August 1979, after they had been called to her house to assist in carrying out an eviction order]. To this day no cops have come to me to notify me that my child is dead. Because they know they was wrong.” Mr. and Mrs. Gamble were told by a doctor at Wycoff Hospital that their son had “expired,” and that was all. Since Kenny’s death, the Gambles have received three bills from Wycoff Hospital addressed to “The Late Kenneth Gamble.” That is the extent of any official communication.

“What we intend to do is to bring a wrongful death action along with an action charging civil rights violations on behalf of the families of Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble,” explains Vernon Mason. “We intend to bring these actions in federal court and we intend to sue the police officers who did the shooting.” Mason and the NCBL are also representing the ten ­apartments were ransacked and who were threatened in predawn raid by FBI agents allegedly searching for the “soul of the Black Liberation Army,” Assata Shakur. Mason plans to file a federal civil rights suit in this case also.

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Whatever the outcome of the suit in behalf of the Lewis and Gamble families, “I think we will see more and more of these types of incidents, not only in New York but all over the country,” says Reverend Calvin O. Butts, executive minister of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and a political activist.

“My greatest fear is this: Given the election of Ronald Reagan and the kind of attitude in the city with his coming into the presidency, groups like the Ku Klux Klan or groups similar to them, like the New York Police Department, will feel, more so than ever before, that it is open season on black folks. I believe in non­violence,” Reverend Butts says with a soft smile. “But the question is, who is the violence being brought against? We must defend ourselves, because the police are not protecting us, they’re shooting us.”

Long before genocide becomes official policy it is an attitude that manifests itself in seemingly random violence toward members of a specific racial, cultural, or political group. Incidents of violence against black people in the United States have reached epidemic proportions. When the police department — which is supposed to stop these crimes — is in fact implicated in them, genocide as official policy against black Americans cannot be far behind.

Peter Funches, Nicholas Benilla, Em­ery Robinson, Louis Rodriguez, Elizabeth Magnum, James McRee, Herbert John­son, Darryl Walker, John Davis Jr., Wil­liam Harper, Curtis Garvey, Jay Parker, Abdul Hadi, Sonny Evans, Edwin Quin­ones, Michael Furse, Luis Baez, and now Ricky Lewis and Kenny Gamble are just a few of those who have been killed by police in New York City since June 1979. Almost all were males, all were black or Hispanic, all were shot under highly questionable circumstances. No police officer has been convicted for any one of these murders. ❖

Many thanks to Dave Walker of the Black United Front’s Police Brutality In­vestigation Unit, without whom this arti­cle could not have been written. 

Categories
From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Are You Ready For Rapping?

Ronnie Ron is a real
Smart smarty
Yesterday he gave

A death preview party
But I didn’t wanna go
Coulda got upset

So I cut
Cut
Cut him off
like a tee vee set

Are you “ready for this?” inquire the Funky Four Plus One in “That’s the Joint:” Are you ready for rapping? Many people are, heralding this counter­-polyrhythmic poetic litany as an art form, the “new wave” in black music. Others see it as an ugly fad, disgusting nigger music coming from those wretched “boxes,” aggravated aural assault/vandalism. It’s like the graffiti dilemma — is it art, or is it a nuisance? I think it’s an art form, but maybe I’m biased, because I come from the land of DJ Hollywood (the undisputed champeen of all rappers), Eddie Cheeba (“The Peoples Choice / the award winning voice / Eddie / Cheeba / Cheeba / Chee­-Chee-Chee-Cheeba”), and of course, Kurtis Blow (he’s on the go), to name a few. To paraphrase Kurtis Blowski, “A place called Harlem is my home.”

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Are you ready for this? Well I just can’t miss, a with a beat like this. The beat­ — the beatbeat — the fonky beat is the key to rapping. And that’s what turns a lot of white and black listeners off. The beat is a product of the street and all of its raw, primal, and instinctive energy. These transcontinental urban griots echo the de­spair, pain, and anger of the South Bronx and Harlem (the world’s two major rap centers), which a lot of the cool-jerk white liberals and b.s. black bourgeoisie don’t want to hear. Rapping reminds them that everything is not cool and correct on the home front, like punk rock in England and reggae in the Caribbean. In fact, the “toasting” records of the West Indies are reminiscent of American rap.

The James Brown D.T.P.R.s (dance/trance psychorhythms) of rapping were a welcome change, a disco deterrent from the psychoid Giorgio Moroder os­cillator/squelch wavelengths and the mechanized hustle, the ’70s version of Or­wellian Dancestand. This musical re­vitalization grew from the basements and parks and spread to rec centers and ballrooms, including the Renaissance at 118th Street and Seventh Avenue, the meeting place of the Harlem Renaissance several decades earlier. At the “Renny” (closed down because of gunpoint rob­beries by gangs known as stick-up kids and rampant angel dust usage), you could hear kids, some as young a 11 and 12, “mixing” (playing two records simultaneously, or in sequence, while miscegenating similar rhythm tracks from each record), or rapping over certain D.T.P.R. sections of “Good Times,” or spinning (a mixing technique of repeating a certain word or phrase on a particular record by retarding the movement of the turntable manually) Captain Sky’s soop-soop “Super Sporm.” Some of those pre-teenage deejays got so innovative on “Sporm” that they would create rhythms out of the scratchy noise of the vinyl near the label of the record. In essence, they made the turntable “talk.”

What a lot of the rap dissidents don’t realize is how difficult it is to rap to the beat. Even though Blondie’s “Rapture” is a hit, Debbie Harry’s execution is awkward: her syncopations off and her cadence out of time. Rapping requires the kind of adroit skill you see when little black girls perform the “Double Dutch” maneuver in jump-rope. The bass, percussion, and drums act as rotating rope rhythms while the rapper waits for the right time to jump, to move in and out of the groove on time and on the measure. If call and response aren’t exact the rap is a failure, so the groove has to be repetitive, precise steady, as on MFSB’s “Love Is the Message”, or the standard, Chic’s “Good Times.” On “Good Times” Bernard’s bass provides an anchor, a rock against which the emcee (who usually takes on the duty or rapping while the deejay “spins” the records, the most noted exception being D.J. Hollywood, the Il Padrone of rappers, who did both, expounded on themes of monetary security (“makin’ cold curren­cy”), sexual endurance (“I’ll lay ya right back on a steady pace”), and egotism (“the best emcee’s at the top of the pile”).

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Rap records have flooded the market ever since the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” D.J. Hollywood had “Shock Shock the House” on Epic, but it was a letdown to his thousands of fans, including myself. Hollywood seems to be laying low for the time being, but when and if he does make a comeback, everyone will have to take notice. ”The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow­zoski (a word/name nonsense game up­town), an eloquent, absurdist double-en­tendre rap dealing with bad luck, made him an international star. I didn’t like it when it first came out (preferred “Rappin’ Blow”), but the B. F. Skinner-type oper­ant rotation of the major radio stations had me programmed to intone: “And-­these-are-the-breaks.” The Sugarhill Gang’s latest offering, “8th Wonder” is interesting, with Big Bank Hank (a DJ Hollywood Memorex) and Wonder Mike cooling out in the background to let Mas­ter Gee “go off” with a fast and aggressive rap.

These rappers do the job, but they’re just specks in the powerful cyclone created by the two best crews in the world: the Funky-Four Plus One and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. After debuting with “Rock the House,” on Enjoy, the Funky Four came up with a minor master­piece called “That’s the Joint.” The bassline is heavy, accented from time to time with submachinegun riffs, while the five emcees’ rubbery polyrhythmic tradeoffs at the break help funk up the atmosphere. Sharock, the lone (1) female of the group, phrases with almost clinical authority, especially on “I got money/and-I-can-jerk.” Kevvy Kev is the apex, as he incants a mesmerizing rap about various emcees, basketball-dribbling phonetics and syllable fractions in his easy slur while the other emcees counterpoint against the double-time cadence of “Rock the house/rock rock the house.”

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But the most creative crew of all is Flash and the Furious Five, because they rap in unison, flawlessly. “Freedom,” on Sugarhill, is a monster jam highlighted by clockwork call-and-response and Cow­boy’s rap at the finale over finger snaps ­— that’s right, no music, just finger snaps. But their first release, “Superrappin,” also on Enjoy, is the classic rap record. They manipulate space and time to create symmetrical vocal patterns that envelope the groove; at one point they rap so fast that it’s hard to understand what they’re saying. All the emcees — Mr. Ness, Raheem, Kid Creole, Flash (even better­-known as a mixer than a rapper), and Cowboy, who rides the groove like his self­-styled “buckaroo of the bugaloo” — have great moments, but it’s Melly Mel who turns the record inside out. His speedy rap near the climax describes the vicious life cycle of a street hood. The story isn’t just exciting, it’s ingenious; his capsulized account of a brutal fate recalls what Jean Toomer did in Cane, condensing a life into a paragraph. This high-powered literary device is what will make “Superrappin” last. It should also be an example to rap­pers who limit themselves thematically to money, sex, and narcissism, because the audience will tire of the repetition. What rap records need to do if they are to have any longevity is to expand in content end direction. Rapping can be used to entertain and educate — “edu-tainment,” as the late Eddie Jefferson said. It could also be used to Reveal, like this:

The GRANDMASTER
Is cuttin faster
Listen to his spinnin sound
As the circle goes round n round
And His line goes on n on

Leadin to the break a dawn
Two figures that become as one
Known as “The Shape of Things to Come”
And you know that, Right?

(All quotes from “Real Rap,” by Barry B­elski and the Omniscient One)

Categories
FEATURE ARCHIVES From The Archives Uncategorized

Atlanta Reconstructed

In mass murder as well as in war, the great darkness of death can often inspire a sentimentality that distorts our perception of the intricate human struggles that preceded and will prevail beyond the body count. Such is the case of Atlanta, a city in which the grand ideals of democracy and the mid­night oil necessaa Joury to achieve them have come together in ways which relate to the Civil Rights Movement in much the same way that Reconstruction relates to the Civ­il War. Yet the miscegenated identity of its political history, its culture, its alliances and antipathies are shrouded by the pain and terror felt locally and nationally each time the body of an adolescent black man is pulled freshly dead or in some stage of decomposition from a river or other hiding place.

But the texture of terror is not im­mediately experienced in Atlanta. What one first notices after traveling the interminable distance through the ugly Hartsfield Airport — the world’s largest­ — is the spring air and the brightness of the sun. Then there are pine trees that seem primitive and gargantuan bottle brushes, slopes that give the city a roller coaster effect, many churches made of wood or stone, and more than a few fronted by Grecian columns, and finally the new of­fice buildings and hotels and entertain­ments for conventioneers and locals that spread out from the center of town to impinge upon what classical American structures were left unharmed by the as­sault of Sherman’s troops and the march of modern age. There is a terror there, how­ever, and it brutally counterpoints the city’s typically Southern relaxation, elo­quence, humor, and fatalistic sullenness. It is expressed in the somber understatement of a fine preacher quietly describing Satan, or it stutters the rhythm of speech like a loose fan belt. It is sometimes wrapped in a mystified outrage or dressed up like a grim Christmas tree with statistics of ar­rests, leads, time lags between disap­pearance and discoveries. Nothing, how­ever, has led to a significant arrest or a solution to any of the killings.

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= 1 =
THE HERITAGE OF RECONSTRUCTION

Atlanta is a city far more complex and far more segregated and given to bloody battles above and below the surface than most accounts allow us to see. The city proper consists of two counties, Fulton and DeKalb, and except for pine-filled woods and slopes, it is predominantly flat, with the nearest mountain range 400 miles away and the ocean 300 miles away. Over the last 10 years, 102,000 white people have moved out of the city proper, while 27,000 black people have moved in, making the population of 450,000 65 per cent black and leaving white Atlantans two thirds removed from political control.

1981 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch about Atlanta

The fossils of classic segregation exist in streets that change names beyond certain points because, in the old days, whites didn’t want to live on streets with the same names as those where Negroes lived. Many neighborhood schools were built for black children following the desegregation ruling of 1954. Present segregation works, as it does in the North, by neighborhood. Most of the black population now lives in the south, southeast, and southwest ends of Atlanta, while most of the whites live in the north end, with midtown the most integrated. At the turn of the century, the well-to-do Negroes had lived on the south­east side of town, at the outskirts. Slowly they moved west, unavoidably leaving the poor behind. Presently, the more am­bitious black business people are taking their trade to Campbellton Road, the main street of the Southwest area, where the upwardly mobile Negroes have been buying houses as a result of white flight to the north and the suburbs (an interesting historical twist in that whites on the run from black political control now turn, as runaway slaves once did, to the north, albeit a local one).

The Atlanta University Center, because it has long provided the black braintrust of the city and the South as well, is largely responsible for making Atlanta so dif­ferent from every other city in the South. Examples of those associated with that braintrust are: James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. DuBois, Benjamin Mays, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Atlanta Univer­sity, which was founded literally in a box­car in 1867 — 18 years before Georgia Tech — was the first of the city’s five black colleges, the others being Morehouse, Spelman, Morris Brown, and Clark (there are also the Interdenominational Theolog­ical Center and the Atlanta University Summer School, both cooperatives). The black colleges, in conjunction with the black churches, businesses, and social clubs, not only produced a developing intellectual and economic elite that inspired many Negroes to move to Atlanta, but also built a network of social organizations de­signed to address the problems of reloca­tion and community development. As At­lanta University’s Dr. Edyth L. Ross wrote in the December 1976 issue of the college’s review of race and culture, Phylon: “These organizations, varying in social structure from relatively amorphous social movements to highly formal voluntary associa­tions, constitute a legacy which looms large in the structure of social welfare today.”

Ross goes on to point out that the or­ganizations expanded upon the settlement houses created as adjustment centers for European immigrants; these were full community efforts designed to provide ev­erything from care for the aged to recrea­tion for teenagers and homes for colored girls, from medical care and housing improvement to remedial reading and legal assistance. As early as 1873, 100 years before Maynard Jackson took office, a black church ran three health centers so successful that the death rate among those it served was one-third less than that of the white population. It was this tradition of educational advance and social change that enabled the city’s Negro community to continue the work of Reconstruction up through the election of Maynard Jackson. The colleges, churches, and businesses provided the city with theorists, re­searchers, organizers, sponsors, and, even­tually, politicians who would parlay their growing strength in votes to a power posi­tion in the middle of city negotiations, not on the outskirts.

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The long march from the first phase of Reconstruction to its present man­ifestation has not come without enmities, for though Maynard Jackson’s adminis­tration is predominantly black, Atlanta’s economic power is almost completely white, with each side convinced that the opposition will only gain greater ground or maintain its strength at the other’s ex­pense. As an architect from an old Atlanta Jewish family says, “The financial strength is in the white community and it is being clutched more tightly than ever before because of the black political power. I think there needs to be a sharing of the financial power. But the mayor’s in­terpretation of joint ventures has soured much of the white community because it sees the mayor’s city government as serv­ing a black constituency above all else. And the mayor’s list of power positions in city government is quite considerable. The ma­jority of the city council, the commissioner of public safety, the police chief, the presi­dent of the Atlanta Chamber of Com­merce, and the chairman of the Fulton County Commission are all black. I don’t care what the color of somebody is, but I do care about what they consider their consti­tuency to be.”

Yet except for its understandable suspi­cion of white people, that black consti­tuency is far from monolithic and is given to considerable infighting, most of it based on color, class, and what part of the coun­try one is from. It has also thrown its share of punches at Maynard Jackson and his staff, at his appointments and his firings. As with most light-skinned Negroes in positions of power, when Jackson does something the black community likes, the entire group takes credit for it; when mis­takes or unpopular decisions come down, he is seen as a “high yellow” selling out blacks or working for whites. Writer Toni Cade will tell you that success in the city can depend on whether or not you’re light-­skinned and are part of the middle-class Morehouse-Spelman crowd to which Jackson and many of his appointees belong. Since Negroes from rural Georgia and just about every other place in the country now migrate to Atlanta seeking better lives, just as they did right after the Civil War, a television executive will tell you that though he is successful, it took him almost four years to get local Negroes to see him as something other than part of a wave of black carpetbaggers come to take jobs away from the city’s black, brown, beige, and bone sons and daughters. One of the mayor’s appointees charged that jealousy is behind it all, that most of the native black Atlantans don’t have enough drive and ambition to achieve success or prominence. Jackson’s job then, is to balance his credibility in both racial groups while continuing the traditional involvement of Atlanta’s black middle class with the greater black community. The two strata have al­ways been close, because racism made it difficult, if not impossible, for a Negro to achieve a significant position outside the black community if he or she happened not to be an entertainer. Consequently, the city’s black leaders in business, medicine, education, and religion achieved their prominence through the trade, the pa­tients, the students, and the congregations provided by the bulk of the city’s Negroes.

Because of Maynard Jackson’s de­termination to better Atlanta, his adminis­tration has had to live up to its progressive heritage at the same time that it has been forced to scuffle with the riddles of black political power and the aforementioned white money, the complications of race and class and the ills of poverty and crime that exist as appendages which bruise and wound a growing city that is still, for all the media talk of cosmopolitanism, an urban country town quite schizophrenic in its mix of eloquent sophistication and mumbl­ing naivete. As Janet Douglass, executive director of the Community Relations Commission and the Committee on the Status of Women says, “Sharing power never comes without pain.” That pain, as well as a complex kind of pride, is felt on both sides, black and white. For certain whites, the pain results from Jackson’s playing a kind of political hardball Ne­groes have never played in Atlanta; for lower-income Negroes the pain is con­nected to expectations that impose upon Jackson’s leadership a messianic mantle that fits like a yoke; and for still others, both black and white, there is a pride in the fact that Atlanta has long been an oasis of relative political enlightenment sur­rounded by the redneck mandates of the rest of the state.

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= 2 =
VARIETIES OF PATERNALISM

The versions of that political history are quite different if one is talking with an older white Atlantan as opposed to almost any black person who worked to break down segregation during the Civil Rights Movement. Those older whites will point with pride to William B. Hartsfield, the city’s mayor from 1937 to 1960. As de­scribed by local white historian Franklin Garrett, Hartsfield was a man “who could be a hairshirt at times because of his quick temper but he could also be quite man­nerable and genial. He discovered the charm of reading as a child and, though the son of a tinsmith and a man who came up the hard way, he got his law degree by reading law on his own. He wanted the city to become part of the aviation industry, which is why our airport is named after him. His desire was to see the city develop the standing it had as a transportation center which dates back to its significance as the most important railroad center in the Southeast with four major railroads by 1860, when Atlanta became the manufac­turing hub of the Confederacy and turned out railroad ties and steel plates for the navy. He created the term, ‘Atlanta, the city too busy to hate,’ and realized that, with the Primus King Decision of 1946, which ruled that blacks couldn’t be barred from local and general primaries, he could build a coalition since the city was 50-50 black and white, and had an educated claas of blacks with which you could deal without a lot of loud rabble-rousing.”

Hartsfield’s coalition of upper-class whites and middle-and lower-class Ne­groes was formed to stave off the politics of redneck whites. This was a considerable achievement: on September 8, 1948, dur­ing the period when Hartsfield was integrating Atlanta’s police force, Herman Talmadge gave his acceptance speech as governor of Georgia with Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon Sam Green on the podium. Soon afterwards, Talmadge attacked the Atlanta Negro Voters League, of which Maynard Jackson’s grandfather was a leader, and boasted that he’d keep prima­ries as white as possible. When asked if the black police would be allowed to arrest white people, Hartsfield is quoted as saying, “When somebody’s breaking in your house and you yell, ‘Police,’ you don’t care what color he is, all you want is for him to get that man out of your house.” But these same policemen had put on their uniforms at the black Butler Street YMCA because they weren’t permitted to change in the station house.

1981 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch about Atlanta

Many black people saw Hartsfield as a benevolent dictator whose paternalistic politics used the black vote only to determine contests between white can­didates. The same is said of his successor, Ivan Allen, a wealthy merchant prince who was mayor from 1961 to 1969. Lonnie King, one of the organizers of the de­segregation protests during the Civil Rights era, says of Allen: “He was a pater­nalistic man whom some white people would say had noblesse oblige. Black folks know better, however. The best example is the Peyton Road wall which Allen had put up in the southwest when black people were getting ready to take advantage of other housing opportunities. It was a sym­bol that meant, ‘Black people stop here. These homes aren’t for you.’ But Allen later took down the wall and went through a strange metamorphosis which led him to testify in Washington in support of the Civil Rights Bills of 1964 and 1965. He did it, by the way, against the advice of his affluent black supporters who had weaseled into a corner of the power structure. You know how some slaves look out for the master. But I think Allen saw beyond what they were telling him and realized the image of racism would, finally, do damage to the business interests of the city and discourage investors from coming to a town that might be constantly shaken by racial confrontation, which could mess up conventions, property, and profit.”

Economics are pivotal, as usual. White businessman George Goodwin says, “In the late ’40s, I wrote for the Atlanta Jour­nal that the property tax digest was just up to what it was in 1860, when slaves were considered property. What is now Atlan­ta’s First National Bank was started in 1865 and it was 10 years before it had $1 million on deposit and 1917 before it had $10 million. In 1929, mergers led to $100 million for a few days before the Great Crash. It was the late ’30s before it got back to $100 million. After World War II, the pent-up buying power began and didn’t really take off until the 1960s, which produced the array of office buildings you see in the city now. Though we were hit by the ’70s depression, Atlanta is now a trans­portation center, wholesale center, retail center, financial and insurance center. In recent years, it’s become a convention center, probably the third-largest in the coun­try. This provides jobs in hotels and serv­ices for visitors. The rest of the South may not be aware of it, but Atlanta knows we lost that Civil War. Sherman burned At­lanta because if he hadn’t, it would have gone back to functioning in the same way for that time which it does now.”

Following Allen was Sam Massell, a real estate man who was Atlanta’s first Jewish mayor. Jews had been coming to Atlanta since before the Civil War and had often done well, but the city was hardly free of anti-Semitism, which was most brutally exhibited in the 1915 lynching of Leo Frank, who had been convicted of raping and murdering a young Christian woman on circumstantial evidence supplied by a black janitor. Atlanta Jews often sup­ported progressive causes, but many blacks recall that Jewish merchants were no quicker to desegregate than anybody else in Atlanta’s white power structure. Rich’s, the city’s largest department store, opened its lunchroom to blacks only when faced with the embarrassment of having to put Martin Luther King, Jr. in jail in his own too-busy-to-hate home town. To this day, there are clubs in Atlanta that Jews can’t join and more than a few are bitter about it, just as some ruefully recall the bombing of a synagogue during the Civil Rights era.

Massell’s appeals to the black com­munity had been instrumental in his vic­tory over an apparently more conservative opponent, Rodney King, who also lacked the New South image preferred by many affluent white voters. The flaps involved his brother, Howard, who had been ac­cused by nightclub owners of traveling around in a police car to gather campaign funds with the promise that the city would become wide open if Massell were elected. Sam Massell claimed his brother’s ap­proaches were misinterpreted, only to watch him leave town for Miami after an­other scandal involving people with sup­posed connections to organized crime. Un­der Massell, the new police chief was John Inman. By 1973, Atlanta police led the nation in per capita police killings, with 29 civilians slain — 27 black, 12 under the age of 14.

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= 3 =
MAYNARD JACKSON’S NEW DESIGN

Maynard Jackson entered politics in 1968 by running against Herman Talmadge for U.S. senator. Jackson lost, but carried Atlanta by 6000 votes, and in 1969 was elected the city’s first Negro vice­-mayor. Although expected to run again for vice-mayor in 1973, he instead took on Massell and defeated him handily. Soon after he took office on January 7, 1974, Reconstruction returned to Atlanta. Prior to Jackson, the City Council was both administrative and legislative. In effect, the department heads ran the city, which gave it what George Goodwin calls a “weak mayor form.” Jackson made all the committee heads responsible to him, which resulted in a “strong mayor form.” This didn’t sit well with entrenched whites, who no longer had the power to distribute jobs and money on the basis of friendship and familial connections. It also gave the mayor a more complicated job and made him less accessible to individual visits from businesses and others who had been accustomed to visiting the Mayor’s office. Even so, there are those who feel that Jackson is far less effective one-on-one than when addressing masses of people, that the very distance itself is more comfortable to him.

Jackson’s confrontation came with Chief Inman. Under Inman’s predecessor, Herbert Jenkins, there had been a chosen few black officers, most of whom were disgruntled because they rarely got promotions almost entirely by briefly assigning his favorite whites to acting of temporary positions and then, when time came to promote, pushing those whites into the slots, claiming that they had more experience than black officers who had been on the force longer.

1981 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch about Atlanta

Jackson initially moved to replace Inman with a white man named Clint Chasen. Inman confronted Chasen, eventually calling the SWAT squad into Chasen’s office with guns drawn. Chasen decided that there were better jobs available in the world and Inman took his case to the Supreme Court, claiming that he had an eight-year appointment through the former mayor and could not be fired, demoted, or replaced. The resentful legal staff which Jackson was saddled is thought to have sold him out by botching the case. But Inman was unpopular with the District Attorney’s Office, and a case in which Inman was obliquely involved set the stage for another approach. Inman had been living on the estate of pesticide tycoon Billy Orkin, who attempted to get a police officer to kill the husband of a woman he was dating. The officer went to the district attorney’s office and an out-of-state policeman was brought in for an undercover investigation which led to the jailing of Orkin. Inman wasn’t specifically implicated in the conspiracy, but a lot of questions were raised about how and why Orkin came to believe he could get an Atlanta police officer to commit the murder.

Jackson’s new city design included a commissioner of public safety, charged with administering the police and fire departments as well as civil defense. Reginald Eaves, a Bostonian who had gone to Morehouse with Jackson and participated in his campaign, was appointed to that slot even though he had no experience in police work. The white press in Atlanta, which immediately proved itself hostile to Jackson’s designs, statements, and policies, dubbed the position “Super Chief.” Inman was assigned to an office in a roach-infested basement and later left.

Eaves gained attention on his first work day by demoting 37 white policemen, and he busted 14 more by the end of the week. Soon he became a villain in the white press and a hero in the black community. Even after it was revealed that Eaves’s secretary had a heroin conviction in New York and that one of his relatives had gotten a CETA job, his popularity in the black com­munity was undiminished, primarily be­cause he announced that he would person­ally charge with murder any police officer who killed without reasonable cause. Po­lice homicides ceased. Over a two-year pe­riod, Eaves got press by going on police raids, rigged to allow him to kick in doors and collar criminals for the cameras, much as J. Edgar Hoover had done in his day.

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“Reggie,” says another Jackson appointee, “took off in that job. Where he had kind of stood in Maynard’s shadow before, he developed into an incredible speaker and was suddenly everywhere — at churches, picnics, socials, and everything in the community you could imagine. He was single, so the bitches liked him, and he took a hard line on crime, like Maynard did. He defined criminals as parasites within the community and let it be known he would give no quarter to a lawbreaker, regardless of color. He transferred cops with bad brutality records into jobs like guarding airplane runways and fire sta­tions and made strong efforts to get the community to see the police as public ser­vants, not trigger-happy parts of an occu­pying force. Quiet as it’s kept, he was using the office to run for mayor and Maynard didn’t know it. Then the shit hit the fan.”

In the fall of 1977, Eaves was accused by officers within the department of sup­plying the answers to the civil service ex­amination for the police force to black men he wanted to hire. Jackson was forced to call for an investigation that was handled by two private lawyers, one black, one white. The 300-page report proved that certain cops had memorized the tests beforehand since they gave the same se­quence of answers when retested even though the questions were reordered. Eaves took a lie detector test that proved inconclusive. When the results were made public, 300 black people were gathered on the steps of city hall. For the cameras they asserted their belief in Eaves’s innocence, but privately they said things like, “So what if he cheated? White folks have al­ways been cheating.” Some white liberals argued that there was no other way to balance the force.

Jackson had long taken the position that affirmative action was only a response to racist hiring practice, that it was neither a means of forcing the unqualified into jobs nor a form of reverse racism. But at the same time he was burdened with what those close to him consider his greatest weakness: an almost aristocratic sense of loyalty. Some kind of showdown was in­evitable. Eaves was speaking in churches and at rallies, opening his statements with phrases like, “Though my skin is dark and my lips are thick,” implying, some that if he was removed it would have more to do with in-group color prejudice than a mis­handling of authority. Cannon fodder from the University Center was hot to trot in support of Eaves and the press was making much of Jackson’s deliberations. Eaves finally agreed behind closed doors to ten­der his resignation, promising it on a certain day, then another, then yet another. Jackson started getting angry at demands from the street that Eaves not be fired. “Maynard started saying,” quotes one aide, “‘I hired him and he carried out my policies, not his. Now these people want to act like I didn’t have anything to do with bettering the police force.'” Finally, in the middle of the night, the resignation was delivered to Jackson’s chief of staff, Gerri Elder. On the same night, much later, Eaves called Elder and said he’d changed his mind and would send his bodyguards to get it back. Elder, in a panic, called Jack­son, who blew up and ordered her not to return anything, then sent his own body­guard for the resignation.

The next day, in a cold, formal tone and in front of witnesses, Jackson called Eaves and told him his comment to the press was to be no comment and that he was to maintain a low profile. Eaves agreed, but in a matter of hours he was speaking to the press on television. “Maynard went through the roof,” reports an appointee, “and called a press conference immediate­ly at which he announced that Commissioner Eaves had been suspended. From that moment on, it was over because, you know Maynard’s sister married a Nigerian, and he said, ‘Even if my sister pickets me in Yoruba, Reggie Eaves is gone!'”

Jackson responded to continuing ten­sion in the black community by appointing Lee Brown to replace Eaves and George Napper to take the slot vacated by Inman. Both were black and had doctorates in criminology. The resentment cooled.

Then there were the murders.

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= 4 =
EVERY MOTHER’S CHILD

I arrived in Atlanta the Friday before Reagan was shot and Timothy Hill’s body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River. I checked in at the Hotel Georgian Terrace, a grand old midtown place with stone columns out front, plenty of marble in the lobby, and each of its first-floor wings given over to the hybrids only modernization, can produce. To the left of the entrance is a 24-hour German deli and to the right, the bar, which has high ceilings and many potted plants, a few pinball and electronic space games, and a sound system that blurts out disco tunes at what seems the highest possible volume. After touring the city with newswoman Alexis Scott Reeves, I returned at early evening to find the lobby filled with black homosexual couples. Throughout the week, I was to find that the hotel was an evening meeting place not only for homosexuals but for certain integrated couples of whatever persuasion and that the midtown area had become the hub of the city’s homosexual world. I also found out that Atlanta is the homosexual capital of the Deep South. Organized crime control the city’s homosexual bathhouses, discos, and gay bars, and as a result, the Atlanta Police Depart­ment’s tough Organized Crime Division bumps heads with homosexuals as it moves to keep the mob from getting a toehold. The black female community, which some say outnumbers black men as much as nine to one, is hostile to both homosexuals and integrated heterosexual couple.

The next day I went on the search party for the then-missing children, which met at Ralph Abernathy’s West Hunter Street Baptist Church, now a stone-columned structure on Gordon Street next door to the Wren’s Nest, the home of Joel Chandler Harris, which was long controlled by a group of old white ladies who made it a segregated historical site until the 1960s. The search parties, of course, accept all comers, some of whom I was surprised to see that Saturday morning.

A light spring wind had set in, flipping Caucasian hair and that loose enough among the Negroes to move to so easy a touch. Green ribbons were in motion, tied to arms and the broom handles used for searching through bushes, or pinned to the fronts of coats, shirts, and blouses. The fancy patterns in which some of the rib­bons were tied marked how long the searches had been going on, although per­sonal style is never very far behind the establishment of insignias and symbols. Yet it seemed at first like a picnic gather­ing or preparation for an Easter egg hunt. This impression lasted only as long as it took to notice the search dogs and the ambience of sorrowful expectations cast­ing an ambivalent mood in its wake, a mood that made the laughter and the jokes of those searchers who had become famil­iar with each other through the 25 weekends seem as much reactions to strain as expressions of humor or camaraderie.

1981 Village Voice article by Stanley Crouch about Atlanta

The ironic flip-flops of history were also evident, for here were white men dressed in army surplus, sometimes driving panel trucks and sometimes possessing classic red necks, who had brought their dogs to work in combination with black men, women, and children to find the bodies of dead black children, not capture runaway slaves. Also ironic was the fact that more of the white girls wore what used to be con­sidered exclusively black, even militant, hairdos as well as the gerri curl look favored by many of today’s black men and women. Acknowledging the scavengers who gather around tragedies, a representa­tive of the church’s United Youth Adult Conference announced to the volunteers as they gathered in the cold gymnasium be­hind West Hunter Baptist, “We are here only to find the lost children and hope to God we find them alive. If you have any other reason than that, please don’t go. We don’t want anybody trying to convert any­body to be a Democrat, a Republican, a Black Nationalist, a Ku Klux Klan, or anything else.”

The word for the day was going house­-to-house within the lower and lower­-middle-class black community to find out if anyone had been the most recent of the missing children, Timothy Hill and Joseph Bell, who had disappeared a few blocks from each other. Canvassers armed with photographs of the two boys boarded  buses to work in areas of roughly 10 blocks. ­No one in the strip we covered, on and off a main thoroughfare called Simpson Street, had seen any of the children, but all communicated the dismay, the sorrow, the rage, and the wounded hope of those who had felt so much optimism since Jackson’s election. The reports that Jackson, who had battled down a huge waistline, was gaining it back on ice cream binges in the wake of the crisis, were then understandable. The murders constituted a growing weight that promised to sink the administration’s achievements.

In fact, the computer technology and the the task force directed by the relatively new commissioner of public safety, Lee Brown, seemed to increase the burden rather than ease the populace. Whenever anyone was asked if he or she thought the ­police were working as hard as they could, the response was disillusionment. “I hate to say so, but I really don’t think so. No, not with all this time has passed. Seem like they would have come up with something by now. They got all the best equipment and plenty of money. No, sir, they can’t be doing much as they can do.”

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That sentiment was expressed often that week, usually by people at the lower end of the economic ladder and those for whom literacy wasn’t important or didn’t have much to do with their daily lives. They were the black people who gathered most of their information and opinions from television and conversation. The up-shot was that the television cop shows had created in them unrealistic expectations of the police. Unlike the television-show vil­lain who announces himself at the start of the hour and is captured within 10 minutes of the next hour, the criminal or group working outside the established crime world is very difficult to capture, especially if he has even average intelligence, which is something most criminals don’t possess. When a criminal or criminals work outside the underworld network, the effectiveness of bribes and rewards is limited. With $100,000 being offered, Atlantans can be sure the crimi­nals of the city are on the lookout for the killers, as is everyone else who could use that kind of money. The lower-echelon criminal world is particularly concerned, according to Julian Bond, because the heavy presence of police during this period has greatly reduced the rapes, robberies, and car thefts that make Atlanta a typical urban center.

Atlanta is experiencing the paradoxes of success in the modern age and no one seems ready, the police any more than  anybody else. Jackson’s push for conventions, international investment, and the image of a cultured town — complete with dance troupes, jazz musicians, community theatre, and free city-wide festivals — has attracted representatives of every one of the Fortune’s 500 to the city. It has also at­tracted Northern-style crime. Vern Smith of Newsweek, though observing that black-on-white crime can make headlines while black-on-black crime is rarely reported in the white press, adds that street crime in general is far less pervasive than what he saw when assigned to Detroit. “The crime Atlanta may have to worry about is drug traffic,” observes Julian Bond, “because changes in vacationing patterns and the frequency of internation­al visitors to the Southeast make for big profits in tourism and a lot of popping in and out of the airport. With any conven­tion centers come vice, and there is now so much pressure on Miami dope smuggling that gangsters take advantage of the many little airports in Georgia that exist for private planes and quick jaunts by businessmen.” Both black and white point out that the popularity of cocaine as an upper-middle-class drug results in grand profits for gangsters. Those who believe that the murders may involve the killing off of rival couriers in a dope war explain that in that world a $100,000 reward means very little.

During the first press tour of the task force office the question of homosexual killers was raised again and again. Com­missioner Brown would only answer that there was no evidence of homosexual connections though the investigation wasn’t ruling out any possibilities. Local tele­vision, however, reported that, according to task force sources, two or three of the victims were thought or known to be guilty of petty theft or burglary, 10 of drug violations, and 10 of homosexual prostitution. A teacher interviewed on the show cor­roborated that at least three of the chil­dren were known to travel with adult homosexuals, and that the boy found the day Reagan was shot, Timothy Hill, had often been seen in their company. (This was also attested to by one of the cleaning women in the Hotel Georgian Terrace, who knew the boy and lived in the same neigh­borhood). An FBI source I interviewed agreed that homosexual prostitution could be connected to some of the cases. He went on to say that the local police weren’t experienced or sophisticated enough to handle this kind of big-city crime and were no further along than they were four or five months ago, adding that he knew federal agents who believed the obvious serial murders could be solved within two or three weeks. He observed that the initial belief that the killings were racially motivated may have cost many leads if, say there is a black judas goat involved, which seems more probable by the day, and that the black community’s ingrained distrust of police black or white had hampered the investigation. In all fairness, however, neither big city police forces nor the F.B.J. always apprehend highly publicized killers or fugitives immediately, if at all. In San Francisco, the Zodiac Killer was never cap­tured; the Boston Strangler remained at large for years, and the Weather Under­ground surrendered on its own schedule.

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Since 1979, county prosecutor Hinson McAuliffe, in conjunction with Lieutenant F. L. Townley’s organized crime unit, has closed down or run out of town 80 porno­graphic bookstores, 12 X-rated theatres, and all bathhouses, and are now moving on homosexual street prostitution. This has been a difficult and dangerous process. When Townley’s unit began pressuring vice operations run by Tony Romano from Cleveland, he was subjected to death threats, a dead horse’s head was put in his daughter’s car, Xs were painted on his home’s doors and windows, and a detec­tive’s car was blown up. Townley, a white man who has been on the force for 20 years, disparages charges of inefficiency that old Eaves supporters and other impatient citizens have leveled at Brown. “I think he’s going to be the salvation of this city. He’s a man’s man; he’s not afraid of any­thing, you can’t buy him, and I feel more comfortable and have more confidence in him than anybody I’ve worked under in this department. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have left here when those threats started. My wife and daughter were telling me to quit, officers in my unit were fright­ened for me, and Lee Brown stepped in, personally made sure my family was pro­tected and backed me until we got Tony Romano, his wife, Virginia, and his son, Greg, several years in prison. They got it for prostitution escort services, bath­houses, bookmaking, pandering by com­pulsion, and communicating gambling in­formation.”

Townley couldn’t corroborate the rumors that bitter white officers who had left the department after problems with black administrators were attempting to botch the investigation by leaking per­tinent information they received from friends still on the force. He did say the leaking of plans for investigating organized crime was a problem within the depart­ment and there were other examples of corruption. He cited the recent arrests of a Fulton County officer for running a whore house, and an Atlanta officer found driving three stolen expensive cars when a $500,000 car-theft ring was-bro . n,e sponse to the homosexual murder theories, Townley reported that a house of homo­sexual child prostitution had been smashed a few weeks earlier but the 40 boys were all white. Townley added that boy prostitution wasn’t the problem it is in the North but that informants were close to the network in the black community, though no substantial leads had yet turned up. He concluded simply: “We know that whatever happens in the North eventually comes to Atlanta. The kind of money and resources these killings have brought in are almost what we need on a regular basis. If I had six more people in my unit, I could rotate them and be twice as effective, and we’re not doing a bad job as it is. It’s just we’re overworked as hell.”

However frustrated the police may be, the strain is obviously felt more deeply in the black community, with responses that range from habitual paranoia to irrational condemnation. The reduction in normal amiability is signaled by the questioning stares that arise when adult strangers enter black neighborhoods. The young restlessly resent the lack of mobility necessitated by the crisis; one parent, reporting a growing callousness in the children, repealed this comment by his 12-year-old son: “They found another one today. Bet they won’t get me.” The murders have taken on an obsessive quality for the mothers of the victims and for those who join search parties every weekend. But there’s still no excuse for the black sentimentalists who complain that city officials take a business-as-usual attitude once they’ve publicly decried the horror of it all, as if the officials would have had any other choice were the dead children white-or as if the critics themselves have stopped the business of their own lives in the face of the present murders.

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= 5 =
A CRISIS OF IMAGE

Those who criticize Jackson’s concern that the killings mar the image of Atlanta his administration has worked so hard to create do not appreciate the nature of social and economic change in this society. They will dismiss local media claims about great improvements in public education with reports that the schools are terrible and frequently graduate illiterates, not realizing that improvement is impossible unless the tax base is increased, which means coaxing runaway whites back to the city. Blacks complain with considerable justice that a poverty level twice that of the na­tion, 23 per cent, belies the image of a growing international metropolis. But the plight of Atlanta’s poor doesn’t move those affluent whites who believe their home town is now perceived as a black city, and who lend their voices, to periodic rumbl­ings about incorporating greater Atlanta’s other 13 counties to bring about a resurgence of white political control.

“The entire population of all the counties is over two million and majority white,” says Dr. Richard Long of Atlanta University. “But what black folk don’t un­derstand is that Jackson, even in face of certain bad and embarrassing appointments, didn’t have to do what he did; he could have made some gestures like the improvement of police relations and gone on to placate the whites with money. His greatest achievement was the airport, which he demanded be a joint venture with both black and white contractors involved. Whites had never noticed when their competitors were white but they definitely did when they were black for the first time. Jackson also got 40 per cent of the concessions — the shops, the duty-free busi­nesses, and so on-for black en­trepreneurs. This made the whites even madder. But black business here is, like every place else in the world, a joke. The myth of a successful black city does haz­ardous things to those Negroes who think they’ve been left out of the pot of gold. If there is a pot of gold, it’s tin painted over. Almost every black in this city is on somebody else’s payroll. But you know how susceptible blacks are to the myth of alchemy and always have been. At the same lime, there is this image of an inter­national city which Jackson has pushed very hard for by getting direct flights to and from London into the airport’s schedule, foreign consulates to open offices here, and so on. This isn’t liked much by the whites in or out of the press. They say he’s the only mayor who has a foreign policy. Obviously, they’ve never heard of Ed Koch.”

Though embattled and accused of ar­rogant sanctimoniousness by his de­tractors, criticized by his own staff for standing by bad appointees on sinking ships until the water reaches his nose, and convinced that his greatest victory was over the police department, Maynard Jackson’s place in history will have most to do with what his supporters call “the poli­tics of inclusion rather than exclusion.” In the great tradition of Atlanta University Center and the many historic figures it has produced, he has not only striven for a contemporary vision of the full community efforts that date back to 1873 but has brought Negroes into positions of authority, involvement, and decision making that have not existed in the South since the first phase of Reconstruction and were nowhere near as comprehensive even then.

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Eugene Duffy, Jackson’s youngest ap­pointee, says, “Maynard got them to bring that airport in under budget and early. The federal government can’t do that with a Trident missile or a shuttle. He’s marched with the striking garbage workers and has made sure that the black community gets exactly the same public services as the white people. He also plays hardball these white boys aren’t used to from a black man. For instance, when Arrow Shirts wanted to move its factory outside Atlanta and sell the land to the Transit Authority for the subway route, Maynard knew it would cost the city 800 jobs and dwindle the tax base further. He called them and let them know if they tried to leave, he would inform the Transit Au­thority they would be denied a demolition permit. Arrow agreed to relocate inside Atlanta. Black folks don’t appreciate that kind of stuff, unfortunately, because most don’t know what high power politics is. Maynard does, though.”

The city’s cultural texture is, finally, much more subtle and complicated than the obvious struggles for political power and money initially reveal. It is as interwoven as the genetic histories of its people, histories affirmed by the broad range of features, hair textures, and miscegenated skin tones that also illustrate the failure of African-American representational painting. As one middle-aged white woman said, “I got Cherokee mixed in me and probably some other things. People brag about the Indian in them, but they’s a whole lot of things they know and everybody else knows about the family blood that don’t get talked too much about.” That is just as true of the Negro community — ’60s nationalism has in­fluenced many younger, light-skinned Ne­groes, who frequently speak of racial matters so snottily that they seem to be suggesting they themselves are pure black, just as certain even lighter ones used to try and pass for pure white. Yet blacks and whites retain almost identical taste in foods, and their sense of humor is much the same. The good old boy, the gen­tleman, the belle, the orator, the scholar, the tale-spinner, and the fool-cutter also have idiomatic Southern variations on both sides. For all the huffing and puffing about who’s got what, the geniality in more than a few integrated circumstances equals when it does not surpass that of almost all similar situations in the North.

The afternoon I left Atlanta was the 13th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination and there were funerals for the two black youths found dead that week, one of whom was in his early twenties and retarded. I thought of the in­evitable sentimentality and the observation by State Representative Tyrone Brooks that the fund appeals had become “a pimp circus; all kinds of people pretend­ing to be raising money for the mothers and putting it in their own pockets.” By then, green ribbons symbolized moral pomposity and avarice as much as they did empathy.

As the cab traveled to the airport past the beautiful colors and trees and red clay in the gorgeous spring sun, I thought of Sherman’s observation as his troops pulled out of the ravaged city: “We turned our horses’ heads to the east. Atlanta was soon lost behind a screen of trees, and became a thing of the past. Around it clings many a thought of desperate battle, of hope and fear, that now seem the memory of a dream.” ❖

Categories
From The Archives POLITICS ARCHIVE THE FRONT ARCHIVES Washington, D.C.

The Avengers: Journalists of the Right Rejoice

A happy new year to you, and now let’s lend an ear to some of our more prominent national commentators who have in the last few weeks or days proposed:

• The mining of Iranian harbors;
• The threatened mining of Cuban ports;
• The theorem that opposition to General Haig’s appoint­ment is tantamount to appeasement of the Soviet Union;
• The resurrection of the House and Senate Internal Security committees;
• The appointment of Henry Kissinger as secretary of state;
• The notion that Ronald Reagan has confirmed the view of 19th century German philosophers that “if we could but pierce the veil of appearances we would see that History is intelligible, logical and progressive.”
• The … but let us pause for a moment, doff our hats, and listen to the words of James Reston, vintage ’45:

“The principle that governs the press, or should govern it, is that the selling of news is a public trust. When the reporter writes a story that affects the interests of the people and the newspaper sells it, they in effect say to the reader: here is the truth to the best of our knowledge; these are the true facts; you can base your judgement on them, in the full knowledge that in this country the judgements of the people de­termine our actions as a na­tion.

“The same kind of rela­tionship exists between a doc­tor and his patients. The doc­tor affects the physical well-being of his patients; the reporter affects the men­tal well-being of his readers; unlike the doctor, the reporter is neither asked nor permitted to prescribe what his readers need to make them ‘well.’ But, like the doctor, he has the opportunity to poison them, and the main difference, it seems to me, is merely that the reporter can poison more of them quicker than the doctor.

“The reporter is thus performing a social and public service of the highest possible value …”

It’s a little unclear, actually, whether Reston was talking about the provision of truth or poison when he invoked “service of the highest possible value.” That was back in 1945. Today, certainly, it’s just a matter of citing poison of choice.

Every age gets the journalism it de­mands and the journalism it deserves. Right now, ankle-deep in the Reagan era, the situation looks pretty grim.

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A Straight Line
The proposals quoted at the start of this article stem from William Safire, Nor­man Podhoretz, Patrick Buchanan, James Reston, and (the one about History) George Will. These propagandists and their colleagues on publications from The Wall Street Journal to The New Republic — a shorter distance than you might sup­pose — are the paramount cantsmen of our time, our ranking opinion molders, hegemonic, as poor old Gramsci used to say.

Once in a while newspapers and news magazines take an interest in facts and encourage reporters to go out and discover them. Probably the last time this occurred was in the “investigative era” of Water­gate. Facts everywhere you looked back in 1974, and the readers couldn’t get enough of them. Investigative journalism was the dominant idiom. But it all dragged to a halt in the late ’70s and our friends the cantsmen took over as the dominant force.

By way of illustration, consider the coverage given of Richard Allen. All through the campaign of 1980 Allen was Reagan’s chief foreign-policy adviser. The Voice, in early summer, raised the possi­bility of a million-dollar bribe request from Allen when he was in the Nixon White House. No commotion ensued, which was not particularly surprising. On the eve of the Republican convention Mother Jones displayed the slimier aspects of Allen’s record in considerable detail. In the brave old days of full-tilt investigative journalism Allen would have been denying on the first day, unavailable the next, and over the side of the Good Ship Reagan by cock-crow on the third. Not in 1980. Then, on the eve of the election, Jonathan Kwitny of The Wall Street Journal gave Allen’s record a heavy dose of carpet-bombing. This time Allen did take himself out of the Reagan com­paign. Not for long. Here he is, back again as national-security adviser to President-­elect Reagan and not much the worse for his experience.

It isn’t that investigative journalists did not do their best, it’s more that nobody particularly cared. Same thing with Haig. When news of his impending appointment as secretary of state began to circulate, The Washington Post dutifully stamped on his fingers, reciting infamies of the (bad old days of) Watergate. Anthony Lewis uproared in The New York Times. Reagan smiled, went to the barbershop (“Get me the president!” “He’s under the drier.”) and the nomination of Haig proceeded apace. The Washington Post stamped on his fingers a little harder, displaying at length his record as an accomplice in crimes and misdemeanors, and all reliable sources agreed that his confirmation is virtually assured.

Time was when the announcement that the prospective secretary of labor was in the construction business in northern New Jersey would have sent the investigative teams surging forth high in heart and appetite. In fact someone did surge forth, and duly reported that there was this little matter of a payment to a political slush fund and so forth, and next thing you knew everyone was talking about the Times Sunday magazine story on the de la Rentas. (“In the rarefied atmosphere of New York society, Francoise and Oscar de la Renta have created a latter-day salon for le nouveau grand monde — the very rich, very powerful and very gifted.” Hard to know where that leaves the magazine’s editor, Ed Klein, but that’s another story.)

So far has the pendulum swung that when Ronald Reagan came out from under the drier to suggest that it was really enormously big-hearted of these big busi­nessmen to momentarily abandon their huge salaries and sink their teeth into big government — a step down, I think he said­ — no one got too exercised at this particular way of commending a cabinet to the coun­try.

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Opinion in Disguise
Outrage has become a sort of hiccup: Reagan appoints his personal attorney; Reagan appoints noted phone-tapper; Reagan appoints pre-eminent environ­mental rape & pillage man to run Interior; Reagan … Oh well. Then he calls the Iranians “barbarians” and vanishes under the drier again.

What has happened is investigative journalism — conducted from the liberal end of the journalistic end of the spectrum — was the appropriate mode to deal with Watergate. In its period of baroque decline which followed, it became the weapon with which William Safire harried the Carter administration. Bad luck for Bert Lance, but it didn’t do much, long-term, for investigative journalism.

Amid the ebb of investigative journal­ism, opinion mongering became the pre­ferred mode, in reconsolidating consensus post-Vietnam and in battering flat the fringe of progressive or liberal ideas that accompanied Jimmy Carter into office in 1976. The opinion-mongers sometimes came in semi-disguise.

Consider the post of what we may call the national security correspondent of The New York Times. Once upon a time this slot was filled by Leslie Gelb. In this particular firmament, pre-Carter, he could be described as a liberal in matters of defense, arms sales, and so forth. He later joined Cyrus Vance’s State Depart­ment. Gelb’s place was taken by Richard Burt, formerly of the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, who vastly impressed A. M. Rosenthal as the person best suited to bring some hawkish snap back into the Times‘s defense-cum-national security coverage in the Carter era.

For four years Burt banged the Brzezinski/Brown drum in The New York Times. Now paralleling the elevation of Gelb, he is accompanying Haig into the State Department. This job at the Times is becoming so politicized that Rosenthal should properly hold confirmation hear­ings for his successor.

There is, then, the Richard Burt type of opinion-mongering, dressed up in the cloak and whiskers of “high sources,” “high of­ficials,” and “intelligence analysts.” In­sidious and highly effective. People stopped talking about Pentagon boondog­gles and cost overruns (old days of in­vestigative-journalism) and began to worry about the encryption menace to SALT II.

With that treaty now trodden safely underfoot, maybe the trend will swing back to boondoggles. Grumman made the enormous mistake of allowing the civilian sector (New York City) to examine one of its products at close quarters. Perhaps someone will ask why we should believe that a corporation which cannot get a bus to the next corner can get a plane to the next war.

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Role Call
But nowadays, Burt aside, most opin­ion comes dressed nakedly, as opinion. The day of the conservative columnist, editorialist, even “news analyst” has come round again: The tasks are simple enough: restoration of confidence in conservative ideas, business ideals, and imperial verve. The executives are familiar, in the shape of Safire, George Will, Buckley, the Com­mentary gang, the editorials of The Wall Street Journal, Peretz’s slice of The New Republic, the Georgetown mob, the Kissinger claque (overlapping), and the ideo­logical imperatives more or less summed up in the thoughts of Norman Podhoretz and the Mobil commentaries.

The executive-level columnists operate in differing tempi of malignity. There are the traditional courtiers: a Hugh Sidey in Time, a Reston in The New York Times, for whom the essential project is to crook the pregnant hinges of the knee and gobble cock. Whether Nixon’s, Rockefeller’s, Ford’s, Carter’s, or now Reagan’s is almost irrelevant. Form here dominates content.

Such courtiers aside, you can take your pick in almost any paper from here to Los Angeles: the manly parafascism of a Bu­chanan or a Buckley, whose recent trip to Latin America produced a rich trove for his fans, as in this magnanimous report on the Pinochet regime: “But no American can say, with any sense of historical au­thority, what liberty he would now be enjoying if he had had a bout with Salvador Allende. Certainly those Ameri­cans who wrote the laws governing licit political activity in Germany after Hitler understand what some people consider to be the imperatives of political re-educa­tion.”

For those who find these two a little raw, there is the high-toned approach of George Will, who preferred Baker to Bush and Bush to Reagan until, the victor clear­ly in view, he discovered that the Califor­nian had realized the views of the German philosophers quoted here. Since he quotes dead people a lot, Will is commonly re­garded as a man of culture and refine­ment. And as befits such a gentleman, you sometimes have to read him twice to dis­cover what he is actually saying. For ex­ample: “In the 1970s the nation deferred investment in productive capacity, de­ferred investment in defense, even de­ferred having babies. I do not think it is fanciful to see a connection between the conservative tide from the polling booths and the bustle of activity in maternity wards. The decade of deferment is over. The nation now says what the philosopher says (Waylon Jennings, philosophizing in song about Luckenbach, Texas): ‘It’s time we got back to the basics of life.’ ”

The notion here seems to be that the Democratic way of life is sterile, that “the basics” amount to having babies and then wars to get rid of the results. This is like the recent endorsement of the American insurance companies for fat— that Ameri­cans should be fatter, and thus more able to tolerate chemotherapy in old age. Given Reagan’s plans for the environment (cancer), this may not be such a bad plan.

For those who find Will a shade pom­pous there is Emmett Tyrrell Jr., pasticheur in sub-Menckenese, for Meg Greenfield, high priestess of The Washing­ton Post ed and op ed, representative of neo-conservatism with a human face. The prose is cute but not the sentiments, at least au fond as we say in the restaurant business.

I could ramble on down the broad high­ways of mainline journalistic con­servatism: and sometimes it is almost comical to spend a morning’s newspaper reading trudging through the familiar ter­rain, from Kraft to Evans & Novak to the incoherent hysteria of the New York Post‘s editorial columns.

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Safire’s Passive Bombs
Liberals often confess to a frisson of pleasure in reading an artful dodger like Safire. And his views are indeed sometimes diverting, as in, “The idea [Safire’s, or Nixon’s, not always clear whose] is to threaten to mine Cuba’s four main ports. Mines are a passive weapon; no ships are sunk unless they choose to detonate the mines …” In the same way, we must assume that bombs are passive, in the sense that no one is killed unless he stands underneath one.

There are even enthusiasts for Norman Podhoretz, living illustration of the fact that structural paranoia is no impediment to success in public life.

But these pleasures should be dis­missed as nostalgia for a way of life that has gone, when Podhoretz was merely Making It, and Safire the distraught apologist for Nixon in his early pundit days. They are now both swimming securely in the mainstream, one giving ideas to Reagan, the other getting them from Nixon, both secure in public esteem. From Podhoretz to Moynihan to Kirkpatrick to Peretz to Jackson to Safire … Bipartisan consensus, ready to march to the ports of Cuba, the harbors of Iran, the domino of EI Salvador. Throw in a brisk bout of witch-hunting, as in the treatment of the Institute for Policy Studies, and you will see how far the clock has moved on — and back — from the high days of Watergate. The mainline press is, more firmly than ever, under the thumb and padlock of the powers that be.

It hasn’t taken long to get the political culture under control again after Vietnam and Watergate: the academics are quiet, the public-interest movement reeling, the poor subdued, and the broad acres of newsprint relatively undisturbed by dis­commoding ideas with only the occasional white tail of a liberal rabbit scuttling across the pastures. So far as ideological consensus is concerned, amid the hosan­nas and homilies of the cantspeople, the stage is set. ❖

Categories
CITY HALL ARCHIVES From The Archives Housing NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Will Trump Get Casbah Giveaway?

The scene was set for the traditional, permanent-government arrangement. Donny Trump, the 34-year-old millionaire developer weaned on Brooklyn Democrat­ic politics, was once again going after a spectacular tax break. This time he was applying to the city’s Housing Preserva­tion and Development Commissioner Tony Gliedman, another product of the Brooklyn machine, for a $50 million write­off on his $155 million luxury con­dominium, Trump Tower, now being built on the old Bonwit Teller site at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street.

The lawyer listed on Trump’s applica­tion was Sandy Lindenbaum, son of the late Bunny Lindenbaum, a combo that symbolizes Brooklyn political influence. The other Trump lawyer pressing Glied­man for a favorable decision, calling 10 times in one day, was Bronx Democratic boss Stanley Friedman, law partner of Roy Cohn and protege of Brooklyn kingpin Meade Esposito. The roly-poly, affable Gliedman, who is not only a Brooklyn reg­ular but a member of Esposito’s Thomas Jefferson Club in Canarsie, looked like the government connection for this array of Trump clout. Behind Gliedman, after all, was our pliable mayor, Ed Koch, the former reformer who now thinks “boss” is a term of endearment.

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Despite this recipe for legal graft, Gliedman ruled last week that Donny did not qualify for this tax bonanza. Before Gliedman rejected the Trump application, he checked with Koch and the mayor re­portedly told him he’d support whatever the commissioner decided. Gliedman ruled that Trump failed to show, as the law requires, that the old Bonwit site was “un­derutilized” and “functionally obsolete,” thus disqualifying it for the 100 per cent tax break available under section 421A of the state Real Property Tax Law. Almost immediately, Trump was in Manhattan Supreme Court challenging the decision. Just as quickly, the city’s pristine position began to tarnish.

In a case involving this much political influence, the selection of a judge is espe­cially critical. The judge chosen, at least in part thanks to the city, was Frank Blangiardo, a Manhattan civil court judge temporarily assigned to Supreme Court, who was listed in Jack Newfield’s 10 worst judges (Voice, September 26, 1974). Lis­ten to Newfield’s gentle description:

“Antipoverty lawyers say Judge Blangiardo is biased in favor of landlords … Judges say he is their most political colleague.

“Blangiardo’s whole career is based on political connections. His father was a power in Tammany, and reportedly was a partner with Assemblyman Louis De­Salvio in a liquor store. Blangiardo himself was a protege of Carmine DeSapio.”

Newfield cites a number of Blangi­ardo’s mishandled cases, including a mis­trial that the judge declared on behalf of alleged mafia leader Jimmy Napoli, after Blangiardo “maneuvered the court calen­dar so he would have jurisdiction over the trial.” This time it appears that someone else did the maneuvering.

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The city helped deliver the case to Blangiardo in three ways:

(1) Edith Spivak, a supervising at­torney of legendary skill and honesty at the city’s corporation counsel, was first told of Trump’s appeal late Friday. She and her boss, Allen Schwartz, decided to retain an outside counsel, Rochelle Corson, a former assistant in the office who han­dled prior litigation involving this pro­gram.

Spivak says that they decided to try to prevent the signing of any order that would put them in court immediately, since Gliedman had just made his decision and they needed more time to analyze it. “But the order was signed before we could get over to the court,” Spivak says. Had they made it to court and successfully opposed the order, the case might have wound up before a different judge.

(2) Judge Norman Ryp made the order returnable the next day in Special Term Part I, the section of the court that re­ceives all such motions. Judges are rotated on a weekly basis in this part and Blangiardo had begun his week of service that Monday.

Had Gliedman made a decision during the two preceding weeks, and had Trump proceeded immediately into court, the judge in Part I would have been Arthur Blyn or Thomas Sinclair, and no questions would have been raised.

Gliedman was ready to decide the case at least 10 days earlier and did not. Betsy Foote, Gliedman’s executive assistant who was put in charge of the 421A program a few weeks ago, says that Gliedman had informed Trump that he was leaning against the exemption. Trump asked Gliedman not to make a decision then offering to supply new information sup­porting the application. Gliedman agreed.

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For three weeks preceding his decision, Gliedman or his press office kept telling me that the decision would be announced in a day or two. He made up his mind at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, March 20, after the courts had closed for the week. Trump had been well briefed on the contents of Glied­man’s two-page rejection letter and he’d already retained a third law firm — Marshal, Bratter — which had prepared a court challenge. The firm sent Gliedman a draft of the legal papers by 7 p.m. that Friday night.

Trump wanted to go into court im­mediately because any protracted threat to his tax break might have a material effect on continuing financing, tenanting, and construction of his project. In addi­tion, the city’s finance department is sup­posed to receive a list of approved exemp­tions no later than March 15, in order for Trump to receive the benefits this tax year. The department is somewhat flexible about that deadline, but it cannot wait much longer. The scheduling of Glied­man’s decision permitted Friedman and Trump to bring the case directly to Blangiardo without losing any time.

(3) Last Tuesday the city’s outside counsel, Rochelle Corson, appeared before Blangiardo. She asked that the case be adjourned for three weeks.

Trump’s attorneys leapt to their feet. They said they had an agreement with Gliedman that no adjournment would be sought. They handed Blangiardo a three-­page affidavit from Stanley Friedman. Blangiardo has sat on the municipal court and civil court benches, awaiting a Su­preme Court appointment, since 1959, when Carmine DeSapio first made him a judge. Friedman’s affidavit was a message from a county leader with the power to one day elevate him. Blangiardo flipped through the pages, his eyebrows arching ever upward. He called his clerk to his side.

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The pertinent part of the affidavit was Friedman’s claim that he asked Gliedman to “avoid delays and adjournments in view of the urgency of this matter” and that Gliedman “graciously told me that the matter will be handled by the Law Depart­ment, but he would communicate this to whoever would be handling it, and he pledged cooperation in bringing this issue to a conclusion at once, with no further delays or adjournments.”

Spivak says that neither she nor Corson has ever been told whether or not such a pledge was made. In court — when the Friedman affidavit was presented — Cor­son did not attempt to verify this alleged no-adjournment agreement. She quietly accepted Blangiardo’s decision not to ad­journ the case, if it had been adjourned, the case would’ve come up again on the Part I calendar before Ed Greenfield, a supreme court judge known for his scholar­ly independence.

Instead of adjourning it and turning it over to another judge, Blangiardo gave the city until April 9 to answer, and said final papers were to be submitted to him.

Gliedman told me that he never made a no-adjournment pledge to Friedman, but neither he nor the city has contradicted the Friedman affidavit. Gliedman explains that he did tell Friedman that the city could win the case by “repeatedly” ad­journing it: “I agreed we wouldn’t do that. I agreed we wanted a decision on the mer­its.”

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•••••

All these facts really demonstrate is that the city’s indifference to the court calendar may jeopardize $50 million in future taxes. Spivak said she “hadn’t con­sidered” trying to “get the case before a different judge.” The city’s view that judge selection doesn’t matter places it at the mercy of its opponents in highly politic­ized cases like this one. If only the clubhouse litigants against the city play the judges-hopping game, the odds are weighted against the public interest.

Gliedman may have given in to Friedman and Trump on some of the details of timing to compensate for his unwillingness to give in on the exemption itself. An angry Trump had to take the scheduling crumbs that were offered and is now counting on Blangiardo, who may or may not prove to be the ally Trump and Friedman ap­parently hope for. “I’m determined to win,” vows Gliedman, who now seems to have a full if belated appreciation of the significance of which judge handles the case. “We’ll win on appeal, if we have to.”

Gliedman, and indirectly Koch, merit praise for their courageous and correct de­cision to deny Trump his tax haven for oil sheiks. The top condo in Trump Towers sells for $3,150,000 and has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, two dressing rooms, two powder rooms, a maid’s room, skylit garden/playroom, sitting room, living room, dining room, study, kitchen, pantry, two interior stairs, foyer, and private elevator. There is no possible rationale for the taxpayers in a city that closes hospitals to underwrite casbahs. It is disgraceful that the Democratic Party leader for the poorest borough in the city is using his political influence to secure this exemp­tion, in contempt of his own constituents

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But the Trump application merely highlight the disastrous consequences of the 421A program. More than a year ago, the first draft of a yet-to-be-completed City Planning Commission study of mid­town development labeled the 421A pro­gram of “dubious” benefit to the city, though it is one of the costliest of all the tax-giveaway programs. The study urged the city to back a bill in the state legislature excluding the program from midtown. Gliedman and Koch have certainly seen copies of this initial draft and a subsequent one, released in July, maintaining precisey the same position. The city is still not even considering the introduction of such a bill. Had they and the legislature acted on these preliminary but axiomatic recom­mendations already, the Trump application would have been a dead letter.

In July, City Planning Commissioner Herb Sturz promised to release the com­pleted study by December but it is still in mothballs. Its authors, however, assure me that its conclusions on 421A have no changed at all. With a growing galaxy of Trump-like towers planned for midtown, real taxpayers cannot afford the city’s con­tinued-legislative laxity.

Categories
From The Archives Housing NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Donald Trump: Demolishing Affirmative Action

The day after the violent protest over minority hiring at Trump Towers, State Supreme Court Judge Frank Blangiardo granted developer Donald Trump a $50 million tax abatement for the project. One would think the award of so massive a 10-year tax dole to Trump’s Fifth Avenue condominium should give the city more leverage to force affirmative action con­cessions from Trump and his builder, HRH Construction Company. But Mayor Ed Koch, whose black-baiting taunts about the protests got banner headline treatment in the Daily News and Post, has seen to it that city-assisted projects like Trump’s million-dollar-a-condo-casbah for oil sheiks escape even the minimal minority-hiring requirements of the city.

Though tax-abated projects like Trump Towers were explicitly covered by the af­firmative action orders of the Lindsay and Beame administrations, Koch took them out of his executive order, issued in April 1980. Several top Koch advisers urged that he include projects that are granted tax or other city benefits (zoning bonuses and favorable land disposition agreements). But Deputy Mayor Peter Solomon, the current finance chairman of the Koch re­election committee, blocked this recom­mendation on the grounds that minority-­hiring programs “would scare away the business community.”

Solomon’s position was directly counter to a May 1979 report commissioned by then deputy mayor Herb Sturz (the cur­rent City Planning Commission chairman) and written by consultants Stanley Rut­tenberg and Harry Wexler, which con­cluded that these kinds of city-assisted projects were the primary reason the mayor should issue an executive order since projects actually built by the city often receive federal funds and would therefore be covered by federal minority­-hiring requirements. The report also dis­missed Solomon’s objection that af­firmative action might “dampen the con­struction turnabout” — by saying that “this suggestion finds little support among knowledgeable public officials or private contractors.”

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The exclusion of city-assisted projects from the mayor’s executive order is one example of the Koch administration’s hostility to any real affirmative action in the construction trades, a position that makes the mayor partly responsible for creating the injustices that led to the vi­olent demonstrations he found so deplorable last week. A catalogue of Koch’s anti-minority actions on construc­tion trade hiring includes:

(1) When the state Court of Appeals struck Beame’s hiring order in 1979, the grounds were that the mayor lacked the authority — without City Council legisla­tion — to issue such an order. The judges emphasized, however, that they were not ruling on “the desirability of adopting a policy of affirmative action in hiring practices and mandating the same.” Their rul­ing was an invitation to the mayor to in­troduce legislation in the council that might have an impact on the industry, which Koch’s own corporation counsel has conceded in city legal briefs has the clearest, court-declared record of race dis­crimination. Though urged to back such a bill by city consultants Ruttenberg and Wexler as well as by some of his own advisers, Koch refused. Indeed, he eventually issued a press release expressing agreement with the court decision in Full­ilove v. Beame and distorting its findings by claiming that the court had found that Beame’s order established illegal quotas.

(2) Instead of legislation, Koch issued Executive Order Number 50, a so-called affirmative action policy which contains no reference to minority workers (they are displaced by the term “economically dis­advantaged persons”), or to goals and timetables. Koch was again unmoved by Ruttenberg and Wexler, who had concluded in their city report: “There is little dispute among persons involved in the construction industry that equal em­ployment opportunity provisions are of no real effect unless contractors are directed to meet prescribed hiring goals and time-tables.”

This punchless order, nonetheless, was allowed to languish for months before Koch signed it. After he signed it, he kept the enforcement agency, the Bureau of Labor Services, so busy preparing another executive order that they have yet to get around to completing and publishing regulations to enforce this one. Doug White, the bureau’s director, says that the regs will be published soon and become effec­tive by the end of September, almost two years after the Fullilove decision. That means there has literally been no city poli­cy — not even this mush — through most of the first four Koch years. The city’s motto seems to be: what can’t be watered down, slow down.

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White did issue interim regs in May 1980 (promising final regs that summer), but he concedes that he has no enforce­ment capacity until the final regs go into effect. He could not say whether this emp­ty order had produced a single job on a city construction site 15 months after its issuance. White says he’s hoping to have a report on its effectiveness, also by Septem­ber 30.

(3) Koch has also issued Executive Order Number 53, which is his version of a set-aside program for minority contrac­tors. Once again, no mention of minorities is made in the order, which instead gives a preference to what are called locally based enterprises. That means they’re supposed to be small, located in certain city neigh­borhoods (not necessarily minority ones), and employ at least a quarter economically disadvantaged people. Under this order, such subcontractors are supposed to re­ceive at least 10 per cent of the work on a city job.

The problem is that the regs for this order took until April to surface, nine months after the mayor issued it, and White says only a “minimal” number of firms have even managed to qualify under the program. The program is still in the promotion stage, explains White. In fact, all the mayor seems to have done is throw a mid-campaign cocktail party at Gracie Mansion recently for 300 contractors who might make it into the program.

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The NAACP, reacting to these two or­ders, wrote the mayor a year ago: “We note again your refusal to consider the mass of evidence which suggests the conclusion that race and historic circumstances are important causative factors contributing to the economic deprivation of a sizable number of black New Yorkers.” The or­ganization blasted the orders as trumpet­ing the administration’s “retreat from the principle, firmly embraced by the last two of your predecessors, that affirmative ac­tion is a necessary and positive policy to promote the achievement of equal op­portunity for minorities.” Conversely, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith wrote to praise Koch’s new, “non­discriminatory” approach precisely be­cause it did not include “preferences for specified groups.”

Council President Carol Bellamy, who does about as badly as Koch in employing minorities on her own staff, nonetheless denounced the mayor’s executive orders and urged him to back legislation with real teeth: “Without such legislation, for the first time in more than 10 years, there will be no City-promulgated employment goals or timetables. I am even more concerned when I see other jurisdictions — Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco, Syracuse, and Buf­falo, for example, adopting their own in­novative minority business programs, in­cluding goals, set-asides, etc.”

These Koch policies have dovetailed with reversals for minority construction workers on a federal and state level. In the same decision that struck Beame’s execu­tive order, the Court of Appeals also wiped out Governor Hugh Carey’s state order. Carey, too, was told he had to go to the legislature. In the most recent session, he did, but the bill died. Carey has now bud­geted his own state enforcement division out of existence.

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At a federal level, new Labor Secretary Ray Donovan is a former contractor whose firm achieved a notorious record of non­compliance with the federal affirmative luring regulations he is now charged with enforcing. Even before Reagan took office, however, State Attorney General Bob Abrams had filed suit against the Carter Labor Department for failure to enforce federal regs (the city, by the way, declined to join in this suit). Abrams concluded that only 5 per cent of all people hired for federally contracted or assisted construc­tion in the area came from minority groups, while the guidelines called for 15 to 20 per cent.

In all of Koch’s postdemonstration at­tacks on the minority picketers, there was no reference to the justice of the under­lying cause for the protest. His own admin­istration’s legal brief, filed at the U.S. Su­preme Court in support of a congressional program or minority set-asides and later disavowed by the mayor in comments to The New York Times, states the case well:

“Racial discrimination in employment in the construction industry has been ram­pant and relatively impervious to legislative and judicial remedies. In the New York City construction industry alone, there has been a plethora of such findings, dating back to 1964 and contin­uing to the present.

“Although we believe that the imposi­tion of a racial quota is a drastic remedy, even a remedy of last resort, in this in­stance it was fully justified. This con­gressional action, long overdue in this in­dustry, should be held entirely lawful.”

Categories
From The Archives NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

With Malice Toward Everything Below 14th Street

As far as I’m concerned, 14th Street represents the limit of the civilized world. Now don’t get me wrong: it’s not above but below this thoroughfare that the hin­terlands begin, among the charming streets that fit within no grid, where it always seems colder than any other part of town. Yes, it’s about time that someone said out loud what New Yorkers who live north of Luchow’s tell each other privately: I wouldn’t mind hearing that I never had to go below 14th Street again.

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Let’s not even speak of Soho, a pre­posterous address, which for some years has been fit only for those who maniacally insist on behaving as though they were characters in a Paul Mazursky movie, to say nothing of Tribeca, Nobeca, et al, all those doleful havens for stockbrokers with the most desperate symptoms of mis­placed nostalgie de la boue, and other lost souls. Luckily, these dismal locations whose inhabitants live not in apartments but in “spaces” can be avoided altogether. It took me a while to realize this. Of course I never went down there of my own free will, but I used to reluctantly accept occa­sional invitations to those parts. After half a dozen miserable expeditions I decided once and for all that nothing would ever make me return to Spring Street. After all, one might as well go to, say, Cincinnati: it’s easier to get there, the food is better and cheaper, and the art shows infinitely superior.

Of course, one has to learn to say no. If you live uptown and are troubled as I once was by discommoding requests to throw away a day of your life (it always takes up an entire day, what with traveling time and brooding before and after), here is the strategy to follow: If you discover that a new acquaintance actually lives in that region, or if a previously trusted old friend betrays all standards of deportment by moving there, do not hide your dismay. Simply announce, sadly but firmly, that you will not ever, ever visit, although you are perfectly willing to continue the rela­tionship as long as the Nobeca resident agrees to travel uptown. Be generous: offer to meet at a midtown restaurant, by way of compromise. If your acquaintance timidly insists, or shamelessly begs, that you make just one exception, all you need to do is to joke about it. Any joke will do, even a recycled one. “Me, go down to Nobeca! Why I’d just as soon go to Cincinnati!” These people are socially insecure and they will laugh with you while they’re secretly wondering whether it wasn’t a mistake after all to move down there.

But the Village is another matter. Not­withstanding how carefully one plans, the Village, East and West, cannot be avoided in perpetuity. First of all, among the eight million (plus or minus) stories in this naked city, at least several hundred thousand take place in the Village (that area has a particularly high concentration of stories since the apartments tend to be small and overcrowded), and despite all precautions, some of them are bound to be those of close friends. No matter how careful you are, you’ll wind up being obliged to go there several times a year.

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Don’t even attempt any Nobeca-type strategy, that’s worthless in this instance. If you try to palm off an invitation with an old Cincinnati joke, you’ll only lose a good friend. No, these people are too polished for that sort of thing. There’s no point in laughing since Village inhabitants are not only secure about their address, but, in­deed, they themselves exhibit subtle but unmistakable compassion for those poor uptown squares who live in exile from what Villagers consider the city’s socio-­cultural heart.

So every once in a while, against all of your better instincts, you board a taxi headed downtown. You try to ignore the driver’s glee when you give him the ad­dress on Perry Street and he chuckles because he’s adding another digit to his bank account after doing a quick calcu­lation of the number of miles he will cover getting down to Sheridan Square and then endlessly circling the area looking for Per­ry Street. Naturally, there is a “No Smoking — Driver Allergic” sign in Son-of-Sam lettering neatly taped to the seat, and you spend the half-hour ride observing the effect of the collapse of your smoke-starved lungs while you ponder the cruelty of life in the naked city, enduring the driver’s cheerful chitchat about how these goddamn one-way streets are always going the wrong way, but we gotta be getting close to Perry now,” while your sight is becoming impaired as a result of your hypnotic stare at the ever growing figure on the meter.

And when you finally arrive, it’s not as though anyone will be grateful. No! For those who live there, the Village is a destination, and you’re made to feel that you should be grateful to have been admitted. No one will emit the slightest expression of appreciation for the fact that you’ve torn yourself away from the real world and braved the perils of the elements and of financial destitution to go and drink jug wine or its equivalent in an eight by 10 living room with an exposed brick wall or its equivalent.

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What is it about that area that makes people who seem perfectly rational in ev­ery other way want to live up to tradition of living down? Why are the seats never comfortable in Village apartments? Why are the chairs too hard and the couches too low? Why are the dining rooms too small and always overheated? Why is the plum­bing invariably inadequate and noisy? Why are there never locks in the bath­room? Why would anyone prefer to live in a neighborhood with no Central Park, no museum, no comfortable movie theatre, no normal coffee shops, and no available taxis as you discover when you walk back down the five flights of stairs from your friend’s apartment and stand on a drafty corner for 45 minutes while the only vehicles driving past you have New Jersey license plates and are filled with hordes of beer-swilling youngsters who yell ob­scenities at you as they cruise by.

I’ll tell you why: these people are nostalgic for Bohemia, whether they admit it or not. Secretly, if they consider themselves sophisticated, or openly, if they don’t, they’re perversely proud of the trad­ition of their neighborhood. The fact that the tradition was dead before most of these people were born seems to bother them not one bit.

Personally, they remind me of Hollywood folks; they’re just somewhat less vulgar. In L.A., people will say, “This was Charlie Chaplin’s house, you know,” or “Preston Sturges lived here.” What’s the difference between that sort of namedropping and the unspoken evocation of Eugene O’Neill, Edna St. Vincent Millay, e. e. cummings, Carson McCullers, and the East Village Other? Only the urban leaning toward the literary.

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After all, many of use associate the Village with our youth. Those old enough to remember the Depression look back fondly at the speakeasies on 8th Street and the bowls of spaghetti they used to get for a nickel at Mori’s. Now, Mori’s is the ­Bleecker Street Cinema. Aging housewives can still recall how they arrived in New York in the late ’40s, suitcase in hand, and headed straight down to the Village, in the style of My Sister Eileen. Now, the drug-stores where young career girls used to sip their cherry lime rickeys at the soda fountain are 69¢ stores, Orange Juliuses, and chain shoe stores featuring Day-Glo cowboy boots. Once there were parties where guys wearing sweatshirts really did read poetry. Now young singles invite a date to dinner in their studio apartment. And why shouldn’t they? So once there were green fields and now there are sleazy junkie-filled all-night delis. So what?

Allow me to say that I am not impervious to the sort of sentimentality many New Yorkers harbor about the Village. Even I have a wistful memory or two of traipsing down to MacDougal Street with my friends, absurd nymphets dressed all in black wearing Fred Braun shoes and carrying Greek bags (those of us at the High School of Music and Art who thought of ourselves as nonconformists wore all black and Fred Braun shoes but carried leather bags) to meet guys with beards at the Cafe Figaro who were always just about to make it as folksingers, poets, or chess champions. But that was in the early ’60s, when the Fifth Avenue traffic still ran both ways, when Kennedy Airport was still Idlewild, and Charles Mingus was playing at the Village Vanguard.

But even that was ridiculous. I mean, let’s face it, the Greenwich Village Bohemia moved to Connecticut in the ’30s. If you want to see James Baldwin, take a trip to the south of France. We may all have bittersweet yearnings for the aesthetic of our youth, but living in a $700-a-month one-bedroom apartment in one of America’s best-known tourist attractions seems a bit like overkill.

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Of course, there are those who’ll say that a nice $700-a-month apartment is a good find anywhere in the city, whether or not it is visited by the illustrious ghosts of the Beats. True enough. But then, let’s please curtail this “sociocultural heart of the city” business. After all, if you get down to specifics, the pickings are pretty slim. A theatre or two, a little music, the New School, a Japanese film festival now and then. What else is there: Balducci’s?

No, as far as I’m concerned, there are only two valid reasons to venture down­town. One of them is the second-hand bookstores, undeniably the best in the city. The other is the obligatory trek down to The Village Voice to hand in one’s copy under the duress of a deadline. When I heard last year that the Voice was moving, I had a moment’s delight. “Ah,” I thought, “they’ll finally move uptown to a grown-up location”; and the ’60s, my ’60s, would be over at last. Alas, I was sadly mistaken; they only moved the operation a few blocks east. “It’s not all that bad,” said my editor, trying to console me. “At least we’re closer to the subway now. And besides, we’re just a block away from the Strand. And we’re still within walking distance of Balducci’s.”

Balducci’s again. They’re always brin­ing up Balducci’s. Why, I remember when Balducci’s was just another Italian produce stand where fruits and vegetables were left to ripen in outdoor stalls in the summer. Well, it doesn’t matter. The years go by and it’s winter now, and much too cold to ever want to travel down to 14th Street again. And so what if I remember the days when there were no curfews in the city parks and boys and girls would stroll among the trees on warm nights and lie down on the grass together to neck for hours under the violet summer skies. ■

Categories
From The Archives Neighborhoods NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Everything Above 14th Street Is Gila Bend, Arizona

Everything Above 14th Street Is Gila Bend, Arizona
March 18-25, 1981

Recently I read the most offensive arti­cle I can ever remember encountering in the pages of the Voice. I refer of course to “With Malice Toward Everything Below 14th St.” by Marcelle Clements. Now I can understand that the Voice is a liberal paper and thus obliged to present all points of view no matter how pustulent, but I must call the Voice‘s liberalism into question when it prints a piece so obvious­ly elitist, an obscenely yawning wound of terminal neuroses, venom-urping jealousy, and outright class snobbery so hincty stifl­ing it feels like you’re trapped in a para­lyzed elevator crammed fulla 38 function­ing Mentholatum vaporizers cranked to the max and an epileptic cocaine-OD yammering at you about the water on his knees. There is such a thing as journalistic responsibility, after all, First amendment or no (shut up, Hentoff).

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Taking Mr. Clements’s (I presume it is a Mr. — no woman, no one, in fact, but a pathetic male specimen with Travis Bickle-like virility malaria could ever write such a swimming pool full of vi­triolic spew) points one by one, he makes such easy pickings I should just turn him over to Frank Perdue if not the Second Ave. Hell’s Angels (who incidentally have seen to it that THERE IS NO HEROIN ON THAT BLOCK; if a junkie or pusher comes ’round they simply kill him).

Before disposing of this walking corpse myself, however, I should perhaps mention that I am proud to reside at Sixth Ave. and Fourteenth St., which is the ideal vantage point on every level. I get to walk outside every day and immediately run into junkies, winos, pill pushers, shop­ping bag ladies, wasted street hookers, cripples and mutilations, and ripoff artists of every description. It’s a nightmare, but it never pretends to be anything else, unlike everyplace else in this fucking city which as everybody knows is the only place on the planet to live. I’m more comfortable with my mutanthood here than I would be in, say, San Diego where I grew up, or even Detroit where I did time. Because Fourteenth St. is, of course, No Man’s Land, the demarcation line ev­erybody uses. Strictly speaking, I live in no definable neighborhood, which obvious­ly is the best neighborhood. South there’s the Village, about which admittedly both good and bad can be said, North there’s everything else, about which nothing good can be said. So I, as well as the Village, Soho (even? Jesus, this is worse than I thought!), Lower Manhattan, the Bowery, etc., win hands down by simple arithmetic.

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Unfortunately, however, bonehead math is not among the disciplines Mr. Clements has yet mastered. He says that our streets “fit within no grid.” Apparent­ly this pathetic specimen is so retarded he has to have all streets laid out in absolute­ly rigid rectangular patterns or he gets hopelessly lost if he tries to venture out to the corner deli.

Next, Mssr. Clements decries our Low­er Manhattan “spaces.” Well, here at least (only here) I agree with him: I hate that particular usage of that fucking word too. Just the other day I was attempting to digest a $7.95 tuna-on-toast in a little “boite” on West 76th St., when my date, a woman who resides only a few blocks away from there, in an orange crate stuffed inside an ironing board closet for which she brags to all her “friends” she only pays $900 a month (I pay $240 a month for an equally huge living room, bedroom, kitchen, bath, and bowling alley), said to me, “I can only take relationships for three weeks at the most, then I gotta blow the guy off no matter how much I like him, because I need my space!

Now we are all familiar with this type of neurotic, male or female, straight or gay, what’s the difference? The reason we are familiar with them is that both the Upper East and West Sides are infested with them, and all too many of us have had the misfortune of falling into “relationships” which shoulda stood in bed reserved for one night stands. Whereas we in the Village and points South have total­ly solved the problem of 6000 years of sexism and attendant hangups by recog­nizing and living by the obvious fact that except for singles’ bar habitues and johns who really oughta tip more SEX NO LONGER EXISTS. That’s right, we never fuck. We create deathless works of art instead.

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“Of course I never went down there of my own free will”: would that this were only true! But Mr. Clements admits he is afraid of us. With good reason. We are human. But we’ll let him come down any time he wants, because our humanism is only benevolent. He’ll go to all the wrong stores, buy all the gauchest and most overpriced merchandise anyway, thus making our atmosphere all the more aesthetically stimulating and untainted by tourist-trap ripoff except for suckers like him who as any true New Yorker will ­tell you deserve it.

“The food is better and cheaper” up­town: I might direct your attention, to single out only one among myriad ex­amples, to Asia DeCuba (190 Eighth Ave.), where you can get a fantastic huge plate of shredded beef, rice, and beans for only $3.50, plus overheard next-table conversations a good deal more interesting than the standard (“Well my acting ca­reer’s not going so good and my lover joined the Divine Light Temple but my analyst says I can blame it all and the destruction of Cambodia on my parents … “) chatter one gotta endure up in Marcelle’s environs. Hell, you can’t get food that good that cheap in Mexico, man! The one time I decided to try and cele­brate my mastery of the Homer & Jethro blue yodel by risking my alimentary canal on a certain “Mexican” place due east on 71st, the menu on the window said $13.95 for (their inventive terminology) “Texas Chili,” so I just said fuck it and split a 16-oz. jar of protein powder with Olde English 800 malt liquor with my date instead.

“The art shows infinitely superior”: Okay, so you got all the hotshit museums up there. We got lots of galleries, and besides, didn’t you ever see that devas­tatingly de Chirico-like depiction of a black leather street hoodlum Bleecker Bob used to have over the entrance to his store, not to mention those squiggly lines in homage to Joan Miro the speedfreaks scribble all over the trees in Washington Square Park? Proving yet again your putrid highbrow elitism, which is such instant proof you all got serious problems of gallstone-deep nature you might as well hang a sign around your neck sez “I have an inferiority complex,” or more appositely “WORM.”

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The bottom line fact re all this brouhaha is that the farther North you get the worse it all gets. No lie! Chelsea is okay, nice cheap restaurants, ethnic polyglot which’s always healthy, but too damn many sweatshop factories and ware­houses to be really interesting. And speak­ing of uninteresting, you ever been stranded in hotshit MIDTOWN? Macy’s/Gimbel’s. Big deal. There is noth­ing in the former you couldn’t find on Canal Street at 1/3 the price except things no one in their right mind would buy, and the latter is just like the former except more expensive. Better you should shop at Korvette’s — a little taste of Middle Ameri­can tasteless ersatz kultur for all you Sta­tus Fans! Of course if Korvette’s is your scene, better you should show some balls by taking the PATH to Jersey and digging America for real. It’s like crazy, daddio, a real long-gone L-7 cubecrib from No­wheresville. Reminding me of course of the lovely brownstones of the Middle East Side where some of the people who inflict all this crap billed “culture” on us live their well-appointed lives. Best of luck to ’em! They have ZERO SOUL but that’s not even the point. If I wanted my hostess in a hot-off-the-lathe designer gown serving shakersfull of suburban martinis I’D LIVE IN THE SUBURBS AND GET IT OVER WITH!

In terms of more palatable alternatives, I admit Times Square and 42nd St. be­tween Sixth and Eighth are pretty great, but there is one slight problem: every time you walk out of your double feature and try to score a few Quaaludes, here’s all these jerks in furs and three-hundred-­dollar cravats lining up for theatre tickets when everybody knows Broadway ain’t been worth a shit in a decade and a half. Everybody but them so here they are, so paranoid from all the sensationistic so-­called exposes they’ve seen on TV where some six o’clock jock thinks it’d be a real bright provocative idea to go down and show everybody how shockingly sleazy Times Square is that they’re tottering off the curbs, quivering if you but reach in your pocket for a cigarette, meanwhile looking at you like “Well I may be mort­gaged up the ass but I’m dressed to the teeth tonite like a real authentic genuine Rich Person so FUCK YOU SCUM.” Kill them all is what I say. But then I think Danny Fields should be Mayor.

Meanwhile look who you gotta walk among if you wanna go buy something between there and the Park: all those hideous FIFTH AVENUE people who rich or not look like their bodies never carried a speck of dust in their whole damn lives. Yuck! Mannikins! Showroom dummies! Oh, forgot Hell’s Kitchen. Never been there, actually. What is it, a good place to go if you wanna get beat up?

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All right I’ll go there. Because the other direction the horrors really begin: that lovely area around the Fifties and Second Third Park Lex. Walk down Third Ave. in the Fifties. Go eat an overpriced eye­-dropper fulla soup at Zum Zum. Right across from you sit guess who? None other than 45-year-old Mrs. nouveau riche from Scarsdale and her 19-year-old daughter; they’ve both just spent the whole after­noon compulsively barging through Bloomingdale’s trying to create more pater ulcers with their damn credit cards. They radiate pure unadulterated HATRED for all living things. Men (they’re all bastards). Other women (they’re all out to steal your bastard). Shopclerks (they’re uppity). Me (I dress like a slob).

As for Bloomingdale’s and Fiorucci: Wet magazine chic, which means you package the shit garish and trendy enough I’ll buy it the more expensive the better. Personally I get my fill of this at places like Hurrah’s. One of the supreme ambi­tions of my life is to live to be 120 years old and be able to say on my deathbed I never set foot inside Bloomingdale’s.

Of course if you’re a real moron you can go just a little bit higher into Twinkieland and try out Maxwell’s Plum, the Adam’s Apple, etc. etc. etc. ad lobotomatum. Now of course we have reached the Airline Stewardess Gulag. It’s bad enough having to endure these zombies on planes, where the fact they all got paperclips and ballbearings where eyes supposedly once lived can somehow be filed under service.

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Ah yes, the romance of the Upper East Side. Needless to say everybody in this area is even more psychotic than anybody in Midtown even. This may in fact have the highest per capita psychosis quotient of any part of the city. An old girlfriend of mine once worked in one of the many thriving businesses in this area. She said it was a big office all curvy no fucking corners and white white white in EVERY respect and everybody who worked there all they did was process computer code info which had some kinda effect on mil­lions of lives somewhere they had zero idea what or who or how or why. What was she doing there? TEMP WORK, which is what you should say if you go to a party in this neighborhood and somebody waltzes up with the inevitable opener: “What do you do?” Watch em panic as they bolt. Great fun. Best part about this place was all the employees had taken EST. She heard a woman on the phone hysterically cackling at her 70-year-old mother she’d just strong-armed into taking her first EST course: “Oh Mother, listen, I’m manipulating you, isn’t that wonderful, hahahahaha!”

Central Park. Very nice. Trees — so what? New York City has nothing to do with trees. Besides which there’s plenty in Washington Square, the dope dealers are better, and you might run into somebody interesting like Arto Lindsay instead of a rapist or his little brother who’ll pinch your twat and snicker. Never go there. If I want a fuckin’ tree I’ll buy a picture of one and hang it up in my living room!

After that the action thins to the deadly dugouts of that long backyard known as the United States of America, first por­tents of the horrors in store taking the forms of Harlem (America un­-reconstructed) and the Bronx (pretending to be reconstructed, besides why kick a cripple?). The only thing standing be­tween us and the savages hunkering in all those Great Plains ragweed shopping cen­ters dreaming of our scalps is the Cloisters, which admittedly is one of the most beau­tiful spots on the continent. That’s why a bunch of us from Lower Manhattan are gonna come in there next week with bull­dozers and cranes and helicopters and trucks and just PULL IT RIGHT UP OUTA THE EARTH by the roots and transport it South a ways to be set down exactly where the old Mercer Arts Center fell in on itself after the Dolls got finished with it. Then we’ll bring in Suicide and DNA and Mars and Lydia’s Devil Dogs and all the other magnificent groups living downtown and let ’em crank up and BLOW OUT THE COBWEBS! If they play loud enough it oughta reach the ears even of Marcelle and all his cronies in Disney World North, whereupon all of them on the Upper East Side can hightail it to Boston and those on the Upper West Side to San Francisco, since you can buy all the same shiny garbage advertised in New York magazine in those two cities as well. Then we can finally secede from the Union for real and hell even the sidewalks won’t be so crowded. ■

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Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Dance Archives From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Physical Graffiti: Breaking is Hard to Do

To The Beat Y’all

Chico and Tee and their friends from 175th Street in the High Times crew were breaking in the subway and the cops busted them for fighting.

“We’re not fighting. We’re dancing!” they claimed. At the precinct station, one kid demonstrated certain moves: a head spin, ass spin, swipe, chin freeze, “the Heli­copter,” “the Baby.”

An officer called in the other members of the crew, one by one. “Do a head spin,” he would command as he consulted a clip­board full of notes. “Do ‘the Baby.’ ” As each kid complied, performing on cue as unhesitatingly as a ballet dancer might toss off an enchainement, the cops scratched their heads in bewildered defeat.

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Or so the story goes. But then, like ballet and like great battles (it shares elements of both), breaking is wreathed in legends. “This guy in Queens does a whole bunch of head spins in a row, more than 10; he spins, stops real quick, spins … ”

“Yeah, but he stops. Left just goes right into seven spins, he never stops.”

“There’s a 10-year-old kid on my block learned to break in three days.” ‘

‘The best is Spy, Ronnie Ron, Drago, me [Crazy Legs], Freeze, Mongo, Mr. Freeze, Lace, Track Two, Weevil … ”

“Spy, he’s called the man with the thousand moves, he had a girl and he taught her how to break. She did it good. She looked like a guy.”

“Spy, man, in ’78 — he was breaking at Mom and Pop’s on Katona Avenue in the Bronx; he did his footwork so fast you could hardly see his feet,”

“I saw Spy doing something wild in a garage where all the old-timers used to break. They had a priest judging a contest, and Spy was doing some kind of Indian dance: All of a sudden, he threw himself in the air, his hat flew up, he spun on his back, and the hat landed right on his chest. And everyone said, ‘That was luck.’ So he did it once more for the priest, and the hat landed right on his chest. If I didn’t see it I would never have believed it.”

The heroes of these legends are the Break Kids, the B Boys, the Puerto Rican and black teenagers who invent and end­lessly elaborate this exquisite, heady blend of dancing, acrobatics, and martial specta­cle. Like other forms of ghetto street culture — graffiti, verbal dueling, rapping­ — breaking is a public arena for the flam­boyant triumph of virility, wit, and skill. In short, of style. Breaking is a way of using your body to inscribe your identity on streets and trains, in parks and high school gyms. It is a physical version of two favor­ite modes of street rhetoric, the taunt and the boast. It is a celebration of the flexibili­ty and budding sexuality of the gangly male adolescent body. It is a subjunctive expression of bodily states, testing things that might be or are not, contrasting masculine vitality with its range of op­posites: women, babies, animals; illness and death. It is a way of claiming territory and status, for yourself and for your group, your crew. But most of all, breaking is a competitive display of physical and imaginative virtuosity, a codified dance form cum warfare that cracks open to flaunt personal inventiveness.

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For current generation B Boys, it doesn’t really matter that the Breakdown is an old name in Afro-American dance for both rapid, complex footwork and a com­petitive format. Or that a break in jazz means a soloist’s improvised bridge be­tween melodies. For the B Boys, the his­tory of breaking started six or seven years ago, maybe in the Bronx. maybe in Har­lem. It started with the Zulus. Or with· Charlie Rocle. Or with Joe, from. the Casanovas, from the Bronx, who taught:it to Charlie Rock. “Breaking means going crazy on the floor. It means making a ·style for yourself.” In Manhattan, kids call it rocking. A dancer in the center of a ring or onlookers drops to the floor, circles around. his own axis with a flurry of slashing steps, then spins, flips, gesticulates, and poses in a flood of rhythmic motion and fleeting imagery that prompts the next guy to top him. To burn him, as the B Boys put it.

Fab Five Freddy Love, a graffiti-based artist and rapper form Bedford Stuyvesant, remembers that breaking began around the same time as rapping, as a physical analogue for a musical impulse. “Everybody would be at a party in the park in the summer, jamming. Guys would get together and dance with each other, sort of a macho thing where they would show each other who could do the best moves. They started going wild when the music got real funky” — music by groups like Super Sperm and Apache. As the beat of the drummer came to the fore, the music let you know it was time to break down, to free style. The cadenced, rhyming, fast talking epic mode of rapping, with its smooth surface of sexual braggadocio, pro­vides a perfect base for a dance style that is cool, swift, and intricate.

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But breaking isn’t just an urgent re­sponse to pulsating music. It is also a ritual combat that transmutes aggression into art. “In the summer of ’78,” Tee remem­bers, “when you got mad at someone, in­stead of saying, ‘Hey man, you want to fight?’ you’d say, ‘Hey man, you want to rock?’ ” Inside the ritual frame, burgeon­ing adolescent anxieties, hostilities, and powers are symbolically manipulated and controlled.

Each segment in breaking is short — ­from 10 to 30 seconds — but packed with action and meaning. The dancing always follows a specific format: the entry, a stylized walk into the ring for four of five beats to the music; the footwork, a rapid, circular scan of the floor by sneakered feet while the hands support the body’s weight and the head and torso revolve slowly — a kind of syncopated pirouette; the freeze, or stylized signature pose, usually preceded by a spin; the exit, a return to verticality and to the outside of the circle. The length of the “combination” can be extended by adding on more footwork-spin-freeze se­quences. The entry, the footwork, and the exit are pretty much the same from dancer to dancer — although some do variations, like Freeze from the Breakmasters crew, who stuffs a Charleston into his entry, and then exits on pointe. But it is largely in the freeze that each dancer’s originality shines forth, in configurations that are as in­tricate, witty, obscene, or insulting as pos­sible. A dancer will twist himself into a pretzel. Or he will quote the poses of a pinup girl. He might graphically hump the floor, or arch up grabbing his crotch. Someone else might mime rowing a boat or swimming or emphasize acrobatic stunts like back flips and fish dives. Sometimes two breakers team up for a stunt: imitating a dog on a leash, or a dead person brought back to life by a healthy thump on the chest. According to Rammellzee, a DJ who’s gotten too tall to break, the set of sequences adds up to a continuing pantomimic narrative. It is each dancer’s re­sponsibility to create a new chapter in the story. “Like if you see a guy acting like he’s dead, the brother who went before him probably shot him.”

When you choose your moves, you not only try to look good; you try to make your successor look bad by upping the ante. That’s one way to win points from the crowd, which collectively judges. Going first is a way to score a point, but so is coming up with a cool response, chilling out. Through the freeze, you insult, challenge, and humiliate the next person. You stick your ass in his direction. You hold your nose to tell him he stinks. You put a hand to your spine, signaling a move so good it hurts. But the elegant abstract dancing that co.uches these messages counts, too. B Boys from the Bronx and Manhattan look down on the “up rock” prevalent in Brooklyn, a mere string of scatological and sexual affronts without the aesthetic glue of spinning and getting down on the floor.

Naming and performing the freezes you invent are ways of laying claim to them, though some poses are in the public do­main. A lot of breakers are also graffiti artists, and one way to announce a new freeze is to write it as graffiti. Speed and smoothness are essential to the entire dance, but in the freeze humor and dif­ficulty are prized above all. “You try to put your head on your arin and your toenails on your ears,” says Ken of the Breakmas­ters. “Hard stuff, like when I made up my elbow walk,” says Kip Dee of Rock Steady. “When you spin on your head.” ·”When you do ‘the Baby’ and you balance on one hand and move your legs in the air.” “When you take your legs and put them in back of your head out or the spin.”

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During the summers the B Boys gravitate to the parks, where DJs and rappers hang out. Younger kids learn to break by imitating the older kids, who tend to out­grow it when they’re about 16. Concrete provides the best surface for the feet and hands to grip, but the jamming is thickest in the parks, where the DJs can bring their mikes and amplifiers. During the winters, breakers devise new moves. Crazy Legs, of Rock Steady, claims the win which he sits on doubled-back legs, was an accident. “Once I was laying on the floor and I kicked my leg and I started spinning,” says Mr. Freeze, of Breakmasters. But invent­ing freezes also demands the hard daily work of conscious experiment. “You got to sweat it out.” You don’t stop, even when you sleep. “I have breaking dreams,” sev­eral B Boys have told me. “I wake up and try to do it like I saw it.” Kip Dee dreamed he spun on his chin, “but I woke up and tried it and almost broke my face.”

Part of the macho quality of breaking comes from the physical risk involved. It’s not only the bruises, scratches, cuts, and scrapes. As the rivalry between the crews heats up, ritual combat sometimes erupts into fighting for real. And part of it is impressing the girls. “They go crazy over it,” says Ken. “When you’re in front of a girl, you like to show off. You want to burn the public eye, because then she might like you.”

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Some people claim that breaking is played out. Freddy Love disagrees. “The younger kids keep developing it, doing more wild things and more new stuff. We never ·used to spin or do acrobatics. The people who started it just laid down the foundations. Just like in graffiti — you make a new style. That’s what life in the street is all about, just being you, being who you are around your friends. What’s at stake is a guy’s honor and his.position in the street. Which is all you have. That’s what makes it so important, that’s what makes it feel so good — that pressure on you to be the best. Or to try to be the best. To develop a new style nobody can deal with. If it’s true that this stuff reflects life, it’s a fast life.” ■

On May 3 at 3 p.m., the Breakmasters and Rock Steady crews will break, to rapping by Fab Five Freddy Love and Rammellzee, at Common Ground, 29 Wooster Street at Grand. Their performance ofi Graffiti Rock was organized by sculptor­1 photographer Henry Chalfant. For reser­vations, call 431-5446.