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Chang - Necropolis - Chang Jeff 2005 “Necropolis The...

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Unformatted text preview: Chang, Jeff. 2005. “Necropolis: The Bronx and the Politics of Abandonment,” Can ’I Step Won ’t Stop: A History ofthe Haj-Hop Generation. New York: Picador, 7-19. ' I. NEBI‘BIJDIiS The Bronx ,aunu'the Politics at Abandonment When you come to the ballpark, you're walking into a place that is all de- ception and lies. . . . There's nothing truthful at the ballpark. Except the game. ‘ —Barry Bonds It Was a bad night for baseball in the South Bronxwan angry arctic wind, an ominous new moon. _ ' The largest crowd of the year Filled Yankee Stadium for the second game of the 1977 World Series, the New -York Yankees versus the Los Angeles, Dodgers, east coast versus west. The Yankees were the best team money could buy. When Maior League Baseball raised the curtain on free agency before the 1977 season, owner George Steinbrenner opened his checkbook and with a $3 million offer landed the biggest prize in the game, home—run slugger. Reggie Jackson, the son of a Negro Leaguer who had received seven dollars a game. For the Yan- kees—who did not sign their first Black player until nine years afterJackie Robin- son broke the color line—Jackson was their most expensive signing in history. Manager Billy Martin seethed. He had opposed signing Jackson. He re-, Fused to attend the press conference introducing Jackson in pinstripes. As the season began, he cold~shouldered the star, sometimes benched him. When he was upset, he called Jackson "boy." Jackson got aiong no better with his new teammates. Some resented his salary, even_though white players like Catfish Hunter had million-dollar con- tracts as Well. They thought Jackson too flamboyant, flaunting his bionde girl- friends in the'Rolls-Royce Corniche that Steinbrenner had bought him. But it was can’t Slap Won’t Stun I lilenmpnlis Emil: Jachie_;vas on the Field. Both had seen the worst of America Both wanted e est ort eir children But their lives had . l I . , not brought them to th ' clu5ions. At the heart at the issue e same con- . was the age-old African-America ' I . n uest : Shall we Fight For the nation or. build our own? Shall we save A ' q Ion wives? r merica or our- "Y Rolplinson denounced the congressman For aligning with the Black Muslim I ou lave grievously set back the cause oi the Negro,” Robinson wrote in an open etter to Powell on the pages at the New York Amsterdam New; "For you his arrogance that Finally turned them. In a magazine article, Jackson dissed captain Thurman Munson, saying, “This team, it all Flows From me. I’ve got to keep it all going. I’m the straw that stirs the drink.” Maybe he had not meant to say it that way. Maybe he was last telling the truth. Jackson'svteammates stopped talking to him. During a June game against the Red Sox, Jackson missed a Flyball in right Field, Mart Jackson trotted slowly and angrily For the dugout. Martin. "What did you do "i wasn’t looting, Billy," Jackson protested. please you. You never wanted me on this team. You do the tension Finally exploded. AFter in angrily pulled him OFF the Field. ' "What did I do?” he asked :rfoagvafreeand have preached For many years—that the ansWer For the Negro mow e'otunlgl, nothii; :egregation or in separation, but by his insistence upon ng m0 is rig to pace—the same la ' Within our SOCiefy.” p ce as that at any other American~ I On tlhe some pages, Malcolm X himselF responded to'Robinson' "You have n o a l l ,7 eve}: s own appreCJation For the support given you by the Negro masses but you ave a record at being very FaithFul to your White BeneFactors "3 I 3" Martin barked. "You know what the Fuck you did.” "Nothing l,could ever do Would _- n't want me now. Why 1 don’t you iuSt admit it?" _”l ought to kick your Fucking ass!” Jackson lost it. "Who the Fuck do you Yankee coaches leaped up to restrain Martin From punching Jackson, cameras rolled. That night in his hotel room, Jackson came to tears in Front oF a small group a news reporters. “it makes me cry, the way they treat me on this team. The Yan and Gehrig and DiMaggio and Mantle and l'm a nigger. "i don’t know how to be subservient."2 sons since Jackie Robinson, playing one game, had3 in Dodger blue. The postwar thrust' h the pivotal cultural moment wherif' Martin screamed. 7 think you're talking to, old man?“ The f ,I W .. . . wh; 3 Later that year, in Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. gave his "l Have ’u D iv. _ oVretam speech. In. Harlem, days at street protests over education and efr y ggv: vlvay to nights of clashes between white police and Black youths esarto t e orig, hot summer th ' ' I made. 5 at gripped America the rest oF that turbulent - I - I . r a: the +160:l drew into the 705, King and X Were gone, the well of Faith and and at cfad‘sustained the movements against the Forces at rationalization _- Vio ence rained, and a lot of Black dreams—integrationist or nationalist— kee pinstripes are Ruth to them," he moaned. ' It had been thirty sea changed another, by taking Ebbets Field away From racial segregation began wit Robinson stepped out at that Formerly whites-only dugout. AFter Robinson retired, he brought his commitment to integ The 19605 had begun, the Dodgers were in Los Angeles, and Ebbets Field was brick and concrete beanstalks, honoring Jackie with towerin I American politics was lurching to catch up with the ure and Robinson's legacy was being open ' rinplya lag-med. For the next generation, there would be no more water For the . I es. 0 inson would approvingly quote his Former adversary: ."Jackie in days . f y y I lllln 0 e 6 I9 I CO IE (1” SO“ {I d SO] W '30 be W 9 3 le JD 1113 I ll 95 C1 _, a :F o :1 5 ... 0 ‘U 9.. 3' F 1533:? was Reggie Jgpjkson in a Finely appointed hotel room in the summer , s ugging e in oth civil rights and Black ' H I I power, playing one a nd the other. I m a big, Black man with an IQ of 160, making $700 0930"]: ear, and they treat me like dirt,” Jackson said. "They've never had anyone like sprouting boxy public housing protects. changes already Felt in the cult is on their team beFore.”5 ,.--Fcl::rsmonths later, when baseball Fans Filed into Yankee Stadium For the or eries on that acid hungry October night, many debts oF history were questioned. _ in 1963, one of those inquisitors was Congressman Adam Clayton Powe' Harlem rally with a Firebrand who made a point oF appearing at a massive named Malcolm X. A contemporary oF Robinson, Malcolm had been in i can’t Slap Won’t, Stop waiting to be redeemed. New Yorkers had never Forgotten Jackie Robinson's Dodgers or Forgiven owner .Walte'r O’Malley For pushing Robinson out and stealing the team From. Brooklyn. To them, the very existence of the Los Angeies Dodgers represented the triumph of greed and betrayal. But the Dodgers Were like a red Corvette in a Malibu morning, a team perpetually speeding into the future. Home runs come easily to them; Four of their hitters had topped thirty homers that year. Two of them were Black, two were White. The Yanks had aiready taken Game One. But in this game, by the third inning, three Dodgers had already hit Catfish Hunter’s pitches to the beer-drenched bleachers. In four at—bats, Jackson never even got on base. it was useless. Down by four runs, the Yankees would never catch up. The crowd turned ugly. Smoke bombs traced siow arcs in the air and firecrackers crackled off the concrete. ,. Drunks tossed their cups over the top deck rails. Fans hurdled the retaining walls and dashed across the outfield, stopping play. Fights erupted in‘the stands. The winds picked up, howling in'from the west. . Outside the stadium, over the right Field stands, past the most secure parking lot in the South Bronx, just a mile to the east, wisps and curls of grey smoke drifted into the sky. Then the gusts caught and ashen clouds billowed. A small ' crowd gathered at Melrose and 158th Street For a five-alarm show, a passing distraction as ordinary as a World Series. Beyond the game, the abandoned Public School 3 was aflam_e and imploding. 7 "'Ladies and gentlemen, there it is,” Howard CoseII told 60 million VIBWBI‘SI as the helicopter cameras zoomed in on PS 3. "The Bronx is burning." M355 Movements In 195 3, the Future of the Bronx could be seen along the seven-mile man-made trench cutting through it. Once an unbroken continuum of cohesive, diverse com- munities, the trench was now the clearing for the CrossBronx Expressway, a modernist catastrophe of massive proportions. I As the gray concrete slab plowed from the east into the South Bronx toward Manhattan, it left behind awake of environmental violence. ",lWlhere once apart- ment buildings or private homes had stood were now hills of rubble, decorated with ripped-open bags of rotting garbage that had been flung atop them," the his- torian Robert Caro wrote. "Over the rumble of the bulldozers came the staccato, Necmpnlis machine-gunnlike banging of iackhammers and, occasionally, the dull concussion of an exploding dynamite charge."6 These were the sounds of progress. Forward- in the Expresswa-y's path, the Irish and Jewish families that had once occupied Well-appointed, if not plush, Iower-middIe—class apartments had been given months to relocate, with a paltry $200nper-room as compensation. In the meantime, as they struggled to Find new quarters in a city with Few vacancies they huddled in heatless, condemned buildings. The man responsible for all of this was named Moses. Robert MOses, the most powerful modern urban builder of all. time, ted thewhite exodus out of the Bronx. It began with a master plan designed in II 929 by the New York Regional Plan Association. The business interests behind the master plan wanted to transform Manhattan into a center of Wealth, connected directly to the suburbs through an encircling network of highways carved through the heart of neighborhoods in the outer boroughs. Buoyed by a post-World War II surge of government invest- ment, Moses rose to unparalleied power. He saw his immortality Fixed in the roads; they were monuments to a brutal kind of efficiency. The CrossBronx Ex- pressway would allow peopie to traverse the Bronx From the suburbs of New Jer- sey through upper Manhattan to the suburbs of Queens in Fifteen minutes. In engineering terms, it was the most difficult road ever built. Caro wrote "The path of the great road lay across I 13 streets, avenues, and boulevards; sewers and water and utility mains numbering in the hundreds; one subWay and three raiIrOads; Five elevated rapid transit lines, and seven other expressways or parkways, some of which Were being built by Moses simultaneously.” More im~ portant, 60,000 Bronx residents were caught in the crosshairs of the Express- way. Moses 'wouId bulldoze right over them. "There are more people in the waywthat's all", he would say, as if lives Were iust another mathematical prob- lem to be solved. "There’s very little real hardship in thething." I in Manhattan's ghettos, using "urban renewal" rights oF clearance to con- demn entire neighborhoods, he scored ofF thriving businesses and uprooted poor African-American, Puerto Rican, and Jewish Families. Many had no choice but to come to the'places like east Brooklyn and the South Bronx, Where public housing was booming but iobs had already Fled. Moses’s point, one of his asso— ciates said, was that "if you cannot do something that is really substantial, it is not worth doing.”5 l i g t i i z i t i i Nenmpnlis can’LStup Won’t Stop exhaustion. Militants tur ' ned their guns on the ,, nTseives. Curt' M ' ' once SUn - rr _ '5 0 held, members Emotiveva on.dPus;hI|:g tor Martin Luther King Jr andyother 129:: Gd 1 me o t e “Pusherman.” Hen-3' d I . Om :EHLZOCTI ear/mists filled the streets like vultures Ollle 68:11:, dunk), thieves Orld c : - ' 0 ' landloff' 'eiarladcreagjlng here what the Romans created in Rolfndvgéed phllo‘ “"0 l0 GUi OrJillJonnes "Th 'd - tan with tin ‘ ’ e I e“ GlWGYS was to b I in the souqugtness as much as possible. You had public housingyopnajiM:nhat. . nx, and then, on top at both of those which were dash???” I _ a Irzmg enough you added a d ‘ ' elrberate pro ram' i , Worst Yo ‘ I 9 0 slum clearance to ' u were then at the pornt that it all started to go ciOthi” iitgdlsPluce lhe h modernism met maximum density. Vast housing in his grand ambitions, hig "towervin-a—park” model, 0 complexes were designed on the idyllic-sounding concept that had been advanced by the modernist architect Le Corbusier as part at his vision oi a "Radiant City.” Bronx RiVer Houses and Miilbrook Houses opened with 1,200 units each, Bronxdaie Houses with over 1,500 units and Patterson Houses with over 1,700 units. I To Moses, the "tower-in—a-park" model was a blackboard equation that neatly solved thorny problems—open space in the urban grid, housing for the displaced poor—with a tidy cost-eiticienCy. it also happened to support the goals at “slum clearance,” business redevelopment, and the decimation oi the tenants' union movement.9 So in the New York area's construction explosion at the 19505 and 'éOs, middle-class whites got sprawling, preiab, white picket-Fence, whites-only Levittown suburbs, while working—class struggiers and strivers got '- i housing rising out oi isolating, desolate, soon— Bad Numbers 859 was le law so! 1. i ie so” 13 Oilxl Cid lOS iCiiIU GCiU l 19 labs I I J 40 pe Cefli . y ' es 0 910 6 p3] CCipliC] 0 l B seCiOJ d SIG 80 3d B i 19 1 d SeVe l V g I nine or more monotonous slabs o t Incom d . . e roPPed to $2,430, [ust halt oi the New York City average a d 40 n Par. to«be crime-ridden "parks." By the end at the decade, hall at the whites were gone tram the South Bronx. dewopen spaces at Westchester County or the north They moved north to the wt eastern reaches at Bronx County. They followed Moses’s Cross«Bronx and 1. one of the 15,000 new " Bruckner Expressways to the promise oi ownership in apartments in Moses’s Co-op City. They moved out to the cookie-cutter suburb that sprouted along the highways in New Jersey and Queens and Long island Traversing. the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Marshall Berman would write, ” light back the tears and step on the gas.”10 7 White élite retrenchment found a violent counterpart in the browning streets When African-American, Alto-Caribbean, and Latino families chved into to d italian neighborhoods, white youth 'gangs preyed on th nning street battles.H The Bloc ense, then sometimes ior‘powe PpIBSSIV ,- P' P I k e lOlCBCl lobol ‘ :0 CU lL'te WOUlGl CiHSe 0! l 1 ie Colid “O! S Gl O When the sound at automobiles re l en m of th - paced thesound oi ‘ackhamrn gporfmeifizjlsdiironx Expressway, the iuei was in place Fbr the Bro:):1ooi:ulrlite Utlthhey COUId mgskepgssed into the hands of siumiords, who soon Figured e fencms, Wirhhogdin ore money by refusing to provide heat and water to fiildings For in g property taxes From the city, and finally destro i th surance money. As one fireman described the cycle: "it stdrpsgwit: res in the vacant a .. PGFiments. Bef - -: “doling” Ore YOU know Ii, If s the whole wing in the merly Jewish, irish, an new arrivals in schoolyard beatdowns and ru and brown youths formed gangs, First in seit—det sometimes for kicks. Political organiza peted with these neighborhood gangs tor a time, but they soon invited constant, sometimes total pressure iromthe a thorities. The optimism at the civil rights movement and the conviction oirih Black and Brown Power movements gave way to a deiocused rage and a ion {The downward spiral created its ow l Iibum . I n economy. Sium‘lords hire - - H5093: 5:1:23; down forlasilfiittie as titty dollars a iob, calcilebilirhlgo :liaui: ranger“th by semnnce pOl!CiEiS.- . insurance companies profited from the UPS OForganizedfg more poincres. Even on vacant buildings, tire paid “med buudin { reves, some at them strung out on heroin, plunder d h ‘ gs or valuable copper pipes, fixtures, and hardware 6 l e tions like the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords car for the hearts and minds at those youth 12 I3 can’t Stop ,Wnn’t 5m]: Nearnpntis :qUIVSlenl of four square blocks a week. Thousands of vacant lots a d b one laUIlCangs littered the borough. Between I973 and T977 30 godtan- were. set in t e South Bronx alone In l§75 I I Hes fir - ‘. , on one long hot da inJu , f ih::}:lv‘edF-e set in a threehour period. These Were not the fires oflmrifyille r2“)! fin L t: ignited Watts or a half dozen other cities after the assassinatio ngge u er King Jr. These were the fires of abandonment n o m- ”Every fire in a vacant building had to be arson. No one lives the fire’s out thirty windows.” He continued, to cut book on his maintenance. When he' vacant. . . and, be— "16 A fireman said, there, and yet when we pull up, "People move out. The landlord starts fit, more and more apartments become have a block with no one living there. nd Jack Newfield investigated arson patter half years and found that insurance agents made ber and dollar amount of policies they sold. banks, insurance companies, or anyone else building dwellings at reasonable rents,” "i7 fore you know it, you ns in Journalists Joe Conason a New York City for twoancl—a- commissions based on the num "There is simply no incentive for with money to invest in building or re they wrote. "In housing,.the final stage of capitalis But some argued that the South Bronx presented indisputable proof that poor Blacks and Latinos were not interested in improving their lives. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, New York’s Democratic senator, was heard to say, "People in the South Bronx don't vvant housing or they wouldn't 'burn it down."”5 in 1970, he had written an influential memo to President Richard Nixon, citing Rand Corpo- ration data on fires in the South Bronx and bemoaning the rise of radicals like the Black Panthers. "The time may have come," he famously wrote, "when the is- sue of race could benefit from a period of rbenign neglect. Moynihan would later complain that he was misunderstood, that the memo should never have been leaked to the press, that he neVer meant to suggest ser- vices should be withdrawn from Black communities. But whatever his intention, President Nixon had pencilled "I agree!” on the memo and forwarded it to his Cabinet.” When it became public, “benign neglect" became a rallying cry to justify reductions in social services to the inner cities, further fuel for the backlash against racial iustice and social equality. When "benign neglect" was inflated into pseudo—science, the results were lit- erally explosive. Armed with unsound data and models from the Rand Corpora- tion, city politicians applied a mathematics of destruction to iustify the removal of no less than seven fire companies from the Bronx after 1968.20 During the mid« 19705 budget crisis, thousands more firefighters and fire marshals were laid off. As the ecologists Deborah and Rodrick Wallace would put it, the result was a 1977 N t‘ Gaggist afnothercsjlulgnngiler. The bottom point of the loop between the Malcolm X' Ina ion an u ic Enemy's call to arms Th I 5 intrigue and uprisings, coups and riots . 6 year Of the snake. A time Of After dark on Jul ‘ ' : )1 l3, as if an inVIsible h d ' [5 hrs bl I ‘ . on was snuffing them, the sire t- ingthe‘ :vgtout. The City had plunged into a blackout. Looters took to the streeis and mg I: as 0 Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East New York Harle driven trogtht Ace Pontiac on Jerome Avenue, fifty brand new cars Wer: salves V:urho s owroorn. On the Grand Concourse, shopkeepers armed the Ie guns and rifles, but for the next thirtysix hours most would b h lm- siphgaanst the rushing tide of retribution and redistribution e e P- at particular night, one thing I noticed,” a resident would later say "th ...
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