The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge

( 19 )

Overview

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 economicdistress, 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...

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The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation on the Edge

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Overview

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 economicdistress, 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.

The Savage City explores this pivotal and traumatic decade through the stories of three very different men:

  • George Whitmore Jr., the near-blind, destitute nineteen-year-old black man who was coerced into confessing to the Career Girls Murders and several other crimes. Whitmore, an innocent man, would spend the decade in and out of the justice system, becoming a scapegoat for the NYPD—and a symbol of the inequities of the system.
  • Bill Phillips, a brazenly crooked NYPD officer who spent years plundering the system before being caught in a corruption sting—and turning jaybird to create the largest scandal in the department's history.
  • Dhoruba bin Wahad, a son of the Bronx and founding member of New York's Black Panther Party, whose militant activism would make him a target of local and federal law enforcement as conflicts between the Panthers and the police gradually devolved into open warfare.

Animated by the voices of the three participants—all three of whom spent years in prison, and are still alive today—The Savage City emerges as an epic narrative of injustice and defiance, revealing for the first time the gripping story of how a great city, marred by fear and hatred, struggled for its soul in a time of sweeping social, political, and economic change.

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  • The Savage City
    The Savage City  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

In the Summer of 1963, cultural change was sweeping America, but George Whitmore Jr. was one of the hapless people who was caught in its wheels. On August 28th, the very day that Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, two young professional women were brutally killed on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The so-called "Career Girl Homicides" plagued police for six months until city officials announced that they had not only solved the case, they had a confession to prove it. The Savage City by T.J. English (Havana Nocturne) focuses on a case of injustice that made legal history, but he places it within the social context of the time.

Douglas Brinkley
“T.J. English has the mastered the hybrid narrative art form of social history and underworld thriller. The Savage City is a truly gripping read filled with unexpected twists and turns. Highly recommended.”
Colum McCann
“The Savage City is a necessary examination of the people, passions and maligned principles by which New York City once lived and died. English has a magnificent sense of the manner in which people, landscape, and history are bound together. Every world is a corner and every corner is a world.”
Mother Jones
“It’s dripping with the kind of detail that’s too good to make up.”
Booklist (starred review)
“An epic look at the racial animus, fear, and hatred that characterized [a] troubled decade. . . . Through the lives of three ostensibly unrelated men, English peels back the underlying turmoil that led to the violent period and the unaddressed social ills that remain to this day.”
New York Daily News
“A searing profile of an ugly New York….The Savage City is meant to make us look back in anger and sorrow, perhaps to reflect upon what stayed the same as things changed.”
New York Times
“[T.J. English] returns with a swashbuckling, racially charged nightmare about New York City in 1960s. This is one nightmare worth reliving because Mr. English so vividly recreates an era….he graphically reconstructs a rampaging decade through three lives.”
New York Post
“A brutal reminder that New York was not always such a welcoming place.”
Booklist
"An epic look at the racial animus, fear, and hatred that characterized [a] troubled decade. . . . Through the lives of three ostensibly unrelated men, English peels back the underlying turmoil that led to the violent period and the unaddressed social ills that remain to this day."
Publishers Weekly
Forget Vietnam—New York City in the 1960s and 1970s hosted its own civil war between a racist police force and a newly militant black underclass, according to this bare-knuckled true-crime saga. A journalist and ex-screenwriter for NYPD Blue and Homicide, English (Havana Nocturne) distills a decade of conflict into three iconic figures: George Whitmore, a black teen wrongly charged with the grisly "Career Girl Murders" on the basis of a coerced confession; Bill Phillips, a dirty cop whose testimony exposed ubiquitous police corruption; and Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a Black Panther targeted by both law enforcement and rival comrades. English paints a vivid, gritty panorama of a city wracked by racial insurgency, showing us precinct house backrooms where black suspects are beaten and white perps let off with a bribe; seething ghettos ready to riot at the next police shooting; and mean streets where the cops themselves face machine-gun fire. The author's pulpy prose—"The Career Girls Murder story was like a good-looking whore"—and episodic subplots don't quite support his vision of urban apocalypse. Still, English gives us a gripping, noirish retrospective of an era when brutal misrule sparked desperate rage. Photos. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The city was New York and the time 1963, when two young white women were murdered in their apartment and nearly blind black teenager George Whitmore Jr. was charged. The corrupt and deeply racist NYPD had evidently coerced a confession. Best-selling author English weaves together the story of Whitmore, bad cop Bill Phillips, and Dhoruba bin Wahad, a member of the fledgling Black Panther Party, to tell this chilling story. History as wake-up call; with a 100,000-copy first printing.
Kirkus Reviews

Superior chronicle of the most violent decade in New York City history.

Through a crisp journalistic lens, English (Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution, 2008, etc.) retraces the tormented life of three men who proved pivotal in Manhattan's "now-legendary descent into mayhem" from the early '60s to the mid '70s, as the struggling civil-rights movement battled a corrupt, brutal law-enforcement agency. Following the March on Washington in the late summer of 1963, two white Upper East Side women were found bound together, raped and brutally slashed to death. Police scrambled to bring the increasingly sensational double-homicide case to swift closure. George Whitmore, a naïve, 19-year-old, partially blind black laborer, was falsely identified as the perpetrator and coerced into signing a multiple-felony confession by the NYPD, then a primarily white-male "autonomous institution." Whitmore spent a decade defending himself in the face of a merciless, unyielding justice system. English also provides a deep profile of Bill Phillips, a thieving, prejudiced, corrupt second-generation police officer, as well as of Dhoruba Bin Wahad, a fearless ex-convict and Black Panther Party. Culled from a host of wide-ranging interviews, memoirs, court-case transcripts, books, and documentary programming, the author effectively addresses key events like the 1963 Harlem Riots, the shockwaves of Malcolm X's assassination and the Knapp Commission's dogged scrutiny of NYPD corruption. Noting that the three centerpiece profiles he features (and the era in which they lived) are "largely forgotten today," their separate legacies should serve as a cautionary reminder.

A comprehensive, still-shocking exhumation of racial discord in America.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061824586
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/27/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 484
  • Sales rank: 940,953
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

T.J. English is the New York Times bestselling author of Havana Nocturne, Paddy Whacked, The Westies, and Born to Kill, which was nominated for an Edgar Award. His screenwriting credits include TV episodes of NYPD Blue and Homicide, for which he was awarded the Humanitas Prize. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a powerful historical account of a brutal dark period in NYC

    In 1963, on the same day that Reverend King presented his "I have a Dream", in a Manhattan apartment, two white females were bound, raped, and brutally murdered. Nineteen year old vision impaired black laborer George Whitmore is arrested for the gruesome homicides that the media calls the "Career Girl Murders". NYPD obtained a forced signed confession from Whitmore. The convicted Whitmore spent the next decade trying to obtain justice from a system that refused to budge beyond locking away a scapegoat black male for a heinous crime against white females.

    NYPD Bill Phillips was a second generation cop. He was corrupt and caught by the Knapp Commission looking into alleged illegal activity by law enforcement before testifying in the early 1970s about a department overwhelmingly white, bias and dirty. Many cops went to jail due in part to his testimony. In 1975 he was convicted of murdering The Happy Hooker and her pimp and spent years behind bars.

    Dhoruba Bin Wahad was a founding father of the Black Panther Party who spent years in prison. He made enemies on both sides of the vast racial divide as rival Black groups including inside the Panthers and the white establishment through NYPD and the courts sought to silence him. In 1973 he was convicted of attempted murder of two cops in his third trial.

    This is a powerful historical account of a brutal dark period in which T.J. English shines a spotlight on a New York troubled by racial tension as police brutality became a household phrase while the cops faced urban guerilla warfare with no psychological or combat training. The prime trio remains alive and free although each spent long period in jail; through them and their associates, Mr. English describes the Big Apple as rotten to the core.

    Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 31, 2011

    Interesting, but not all that accurate.

    An interesting read, but it had a LOT of historical & geographic inaccuracies, and it was very one-sided.

    Mr. English also claimed that the execution options in NY in the mid '60s were electrocution, gas, or lethal injection. Lethal injection did not become a method of execution anywhere in the U.S. that I'm aware of until many years later.

    English places Newark as being halfway between Wildwood & Brooklyn. That would make Wildwood about 25 miles from NYC. Anyone with a basic geographic knowledge of NY/NJ knows that Wildwood in about 150 miles down the coast. He also stated that Newark's population in 1967 was 2 million. Newark's population has always been well below 1 million. Did he do this for dramatic effect ? Who knows, but the errors were glaring.

    Additionally, he states that NYC's crime rate started to come down when Dinkins was elected mayor. I lived in NYC during that period. The yearly homicide count in the Dinkins years was over two thousand. Not until Giuliani became mayor did the crime rate plummet, thanks in part to intelligent, aggressive policing.

    There were several other untruths; too many too list at this point.

    The Savage City would make a very good novel. As non-fiction it fails miserably.

    Gregory Menton

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Brutally Honest - Brilliantly Told

    This book takes an honest look at the racial tension and resulting crime that gripped New York City throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. While nonfiction, The Savage City often reads like a suspense or thriller novel. T.J. English puts us right in the midst of the unfolding drama by standing in the middle and showing us both sides. He doesn't flinch in his honesty. His writing is gripping and the topic often beyond disturbing. We see the city and its culture at its best and at its absolute worst. The "characters" in this story are real people. Some had their lives torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. Others were the catalyst that set the destruction in motion. I couldn't put this one down.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2012

    Sterling and entertaining

    Mind blowing history, expertly put together. If you read this and T.J. English other books, you'd have to agree he's one of the best non-fiction writers out there right now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2013

    Worthy read!

    An engrossing true crime story that depicits the times very well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    Tough time in NYC

    The author did a nice job detailing a very difficult time in this great nations history. I have read the author's other books and truly consider him an excellent author but in all honesty I believe he portrayed the misguided and criminal members of the Black Panthers as legitimate civil rights activists when they were nothing more than anarchists who hid behind the struggle for civil rights. These individuals assassinated innocent hardworking police officers and attempted to call it "right". This period was a truly "ugly" time in history but this book gives a hard and for the most part accurate look at the issues. Its a good read!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2011

    Well done

    A very good read of a hard time in the savage time. ??

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 21, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    In The Savage City by T.J. English, the author has written an impressive narrative that exposes the gritty side of New York City. Starting with two seemingly unrelated events that occurred on August 28, 1963, Mr. English explores the issues of race, class, criminal justice, and corruption in one of the most volatile periods in New York City history, allowing the city to earn the name, The Savage City. One event is the Martin Luther King Jr. "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, which inspired action and hope in many Americans to initiate change to make the nation a better place. The other event is the murder of two young white, professional women in their Manhattan apartment, a gruesome crime given the name, The Career Girls Murder case, which put fear in the hearts of many New Yorkers who felt they were no longer safe.

    The Savage City unravels this painful tale through the lives of three diverse men - who never met each other, yet each was part of this landscape and had very public faces/roles. The most tragic figure of the three is George Whitmore Jr., who is 19 years old when he is arrested and charged in the Career Girls Murder, not because he is guilty but because he is naïve and the police is all powerful and only wants to check this case off the list. Bill Phillips is a second-generation cop, who cannot wait to get to shake down businesses and police to supplement his measly police salary, but will his brazenness and police honor code allow him to avoid public scrutiny. For Dhoruba bin Wahad finding few opportunities for a young, black male turns to petty crime and is incarcerated where his introspectiveness leads him to militant activism and one of the founders of the New York Black Panthers party. Through the vibrant voices of the three men, and the well-written narrative, I was able to be caught up in the swirl of police brutality and the racial unrest that were so part of the lives of many black Americans that lived during this time. Change is always difficult, and unfortunately, usually involves violence to make the necessity of change understood. All three of the men did spend time in prison and are alive today, and it would be interesting to hear their voices and views today on how much change has taken place, as cases of uncalled for police brutality have surfaced over the last couple of years.

    I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the history of this era, and especially for those who thought that the battlefields of the Civil Rights and black militarism were taking place in the South and West.

    This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

    Reviewed by Beverly
    APOOOBookClub

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