In the Heat of the Summer: The New York Riots of 1964 and the War on Crime.
In this book, the author tells readers that the purpose for his study is to challenge the generalized belief that "the long hot summer" of the 1960s began with the 1965 Los Angeles Watts Riot. Michael Flamm contends that the 1964 New York Riots inaugurated an era of urban riots that would continue throughout the decade (6).
In order "to correct this omission and tell the story as accurately as possible," Flamm uses a field research methodology by examining existing data from historical archives, and employs a "day to day" street-level narrative from personal interviews with people alleged to be familiar with the riots. Although the individuals interviewed were never intended to be a probabilistic representation, Flamm tells the reader that he was willing to talk to anyone from the study population who was willing to be interviewed.
The time frame for the riots was 16-22 July 1964, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn and Central Harlem. At issue in the riots was whether James Powell, a fifteen-year-old black student, attacked off-duty, white police officer Lt. Thomas G. Gillian with a knife before Gillian shot and killed him in self-defense. In the aftermath of the killing, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), a nonviolent civil rights organization in Harlem, organized a demonstration protesting the shooting death of Powell. They initially claimed Powell did not have a knife. However, CORE later retracted that claim when two black teenagers testified before a grand jury that they were present when Powell was shot and killed, and "Powell had a knife and threatened to use it" (244). Officer Gillian was subsequently cleared by the grand jury of all criminal charges, which further inflamed the riots. After six days of rioting, there was only one death, although approximately 118 people were injured and an estimated 465 men and women were arrested. Similar conflicts between black citizens and police continued to occur throughout the 1960s and into the present, most notably in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.
Flamm recognizes notable African American leaders, such as Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and others, who were quick to state that although the death of James Powell was a tragedy, this incident was not the cause of the riots. The cause of the 1964 New York Riots was the social conditions that plagued Bedford-Stuyvesant and central Harlem in an "undignified manner," with poor housing, inadequate health care facilities, poor schools, etc. (202-203). These conditions were fully exposed for the world to see the stigma of poverty.
The old adage "we are more alike each other than unalike" was never embraced in the 1964 New York Riots. The residents who actively participated in the riots saw the police as racist and violent, while the police who attempted to enforce "law and order" saw the residents as looters and hoodlums. According to Flamm, Rustin used this old adage in reference to both sides being trapped in a "vortex of violence," confirming the worst views of each other (114).
There are several significant underlying themes in this book, such as states' rights versus federal prerogatives, especially as it pertains to federal government intervention in racial conflicts within states. Another theme involves the rhetoric of "war on crime" versus "war on drugs" that was central in the 1968 presidential election. The war on drugs prevailed with the election of Richard Nixon and foreshadowed the militarization and subsequent mass incarceration of black urban residents in the 1970s and continuing today.
A final contribution of this book is how Flamm moves back and forth from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Central Harlem to the White House in dialogue between Rustin and President Lyndon B. Johnson. Rustin was a social activist and pacifist who became a type of intermediary between the rioters and the president. At issue was the pending passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The passage of both acts can be attributed to the political intelligence of President Johnson and Rustin. The 1964 New York riots occurred less than two weeks after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act; and the 1965 Watts Riot occurred one day before the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Flamm tells the reader in the prologue "the most valuable gift a historian can possess is empathy for the people about whom he or she writes"(9). Flamm does this exceptionally well. In the Heat of the Summer is an engaging narrative and highly recommended for the reader with an interest in history, politics, social movements, or civil rights.
The Ohio State University
James N. Upton
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|Title Annotation:||THE AMERICAS|
|Author:||Upton, James N.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2018|
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