Review: The Savage City by TJ English


Savage CityThe Savage City by TJ English (William Morrow, 2011)

Blurb: In the early 1960s, uncertainty and menace gripped New York, crystallizing in a poisonous divide between a deeply corrupt, cynical, and racist police force, and an African American community buffeted by economic distress, brutality, and narcotics. On August 28, 1963–the day Martin Luther King Jr. declared “I have a dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial–two young white women were murdered in their Manhattan apartment. Dubbed the Career Girls Murders case, the crime sent ripples of fear throughout the city, as police scrambled fruitlessly for months to find the killer. But it also marked the start of a ten-year saga of fear, racial violence, and turmoil in the city–an era that took in events from the Harlem Riots of the mid-1960s to the Panther Twenty-One trials and Knapp Commission police corruption hearings of the early 1970s.


This is one of the best books of the year (2011). The author examines a single decade in New York’s history (1963-1973) by focusing on the lives of three men: George Whitmore, a man who is coerced into a 61-page confession, none of which is true; Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a key member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army; and Bill Phillips, a notoriously bent cop whose testimony before the Knapp Commission exposed the rampant, widespread corruption within the NYPD. English uses these stories to illustrate the growing racial tensions within New York City and the entrenched corruption of its (mostly white Irish Catholic) police force during the turbulent Civil Rights Era.

This is a well-written, well-researched, well-documented book. Yes, the events English describes took place almost a half century ago, but the conditions he describes–frustrated minority populations, corrupt system of justice, and economic inequality–still exist today, which is part of why this book is so compelling.


My rating: 5 stars


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