Saturday, June 25, 2011
"Alphaville" by Michael Cordella and Bruce Bennett
Mr. Cordella has, with this book, given us a look not only at the decay of New York City during the 1970's as a whole, but also a close up look at the Housing Authority and the mammoth job it takes to police it. He even takes us back to some of the early efforts to reform the poor on the Lower East Side, an area he would come to know well as a member of the New York Housing Authority Police. He also offers some insight into just how things got so messed up in what was designed to be a "utopian" project by Robert Moses back in the 1930's. It was idealistic in it's design, but flawed in that it cut people off from the community at large, becoming a vertical city all it's own.
The original residents who lived in the "projects", as they came to be known, were Italian, Jewish and Irish. They moved up and out. Replacing those groups were people who came from the Puerto Rican and the African-American migrations of the late 1940's through the early 1960's. Along with this changing demographic came the drug trade.
The book is written in an engaging fashion, with alternating chapters about the authors life leading up to his career as a Police Officer, and chapters about the projects, their unique set of rules for survival in a vertical jungle, and the politics that drove it all to where it is today. The land speculation of the late 1970's, which gave way to the revitilization of these blighted areas is not ignored here, but rather explored. Was it justifiable to price the poor out in order to create a tax base?
The author goes on to explain just how the Knapp Commission, and the politics, of the late 1960's further weakened any efforts at law enforcement. While corruption and vice raged all about, by the early 1980's the AIDS epidemic had reared it's head, further victimizing those on the bottom rungs of society, while the politicians and social engineers took almost 7 years to start a simple needle exchange program in an epidemic environment.
Using informants, and taking names in an effort to shut down one of the biggest dealers on the Lower East Side, the author manages to put a small dent in a problem of Biblical proportions.
An engaging portrait of a city in upheaval, and denial, this book puts you on the front lines of the failed War on Drugs, from Coney Island to the Lower East Side. If you grew up in New York City during those years, or even if you didn't, this book will take you beyond "NYPD Blue", "Homicide" and all the rest of the usual cop shows, giving you a ringside seat into the thoughts and actions behind the "War on Drugs." Be careful, you may not like what you read.