Urban Confrontation; 6; Jimmy Breslin
A situation a condition of the black person living in a large city will take New York to Chicago as rice and dramatically motley as the last five years. For the few on the top that make it starting the new black middle class and upper middle class. All it does is make a wider gulf and for the white people they can say see these people are making it and they don't see the real damage. Urban confrontation and analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city. Today's recorded guest is Jimmy Breslin the nationally known journalist with The New Yorker magazine who will discuss change. Jimmy Breslin on urban politics.
Questions I asked him the following program are merely the moderator's method to presenting many sides of today's topic. Here is your host Joseph arbiter. Our guest today is Jimmy Breslin well-known writer and journalist with The New Yorker magazine and one writer who has had the unusual experience of also being a politician a candidate along with Norman Mailer for mayor of the city of New York. Jimmy Breslin you want said one of your books that you'd rather be mugged on a street corner and a city than live in a suburb. If you had to have the choice between the two other words you like the big cities. You know I think you can die as in and say this it's a clean asylum that Cage is a clean but it's certainly it's very bad for the head. You know it's a popular thing in American letters at this time to take shots at suburban life the petty dollar errand running lives of a suburbanites materialistic affluent meaningless. All the trite cliche
of the classic indictment it's hard for me to understand you falling into that I think genre. I lived there so I know who are close to all those rumors are true. Well everybody lives petty lives whether you're in the city or the suburbs is out of San. It's just that I think when you see the way the suburbs of use the cities I know there's something that it does change them. They're not as nice as they are in the cities when they move into the suburbs. They get awfully possessions conscious or flee. It does change and little things become so important to them. A lawn becomes very important to them things that shouldn't count become important and they turn mean in. Now I don't like them and I don't like it as much. It's just people sitting looking at each other's possessions. If we can get ready to bet it is more going on is more motion. Besides a city is an anonymous place and you don't have to know your neighbor friend of mine Dr. Calexico lived in the same apartment in Seventy second Street for 37 years he still doesn't know more than two people in the whole building by name.
He doesn't know the other names he doesn't know the people he loves it and yet some people reading your columns are reading your books get the impression that you found something in the city that many city dwellers are unable to find you found the city's heart. You've got some keys to places and doors and ideas and kinds of feelings about city life that a lot of people have never been able to find true. I'm just reporting what other people do. Basically I have any particular secret. Just think of where we have a lot of people with better high density areas a much better than split level areas. No question about it as more people have more contact with people there's more going on. That's good. Lifestyle is much livelier. And yet so many people are leaving the city the downtown areas the inner core escaping perhaps the ward would be there going to the suburbs that you would write off why I will write about what I mean is very very hard to live in a city where there's no housing in cities. When you're escaping one heaving that you can see and getting in a place where the evil is much
subtler and takes longer to appear. So I think the evilest suburbs is there. It's the evil of idleness and possessions. When the city it's a dramatic dangerous thing the ideal of course is to have these middle class OWS ing it in urban areas where people would like to live. The president's commission on violence painted a rather dismal picture of the downtown areas of our inner core. He described it at a time maybe in the next 10 or 20 years where stockades will protect the intercourse at night from criminal elements now. What's the future for the American city are we going to be fenced in at night protecting ourselves from our fellow man. Sure why not as long as you get the idiots running the situation as it now is because you have white racism you're going to have black crime. Oh is there any hope that white racism can be eliminated. Where do you think the cities are going where you think the country's going some people talk about a second American Civil War. I don't want anything like that's going to come. Certainly it is creeping attrition here.
You're just going to have a dangerous situation that can ignite and these things are never play and these riots of any shootings These are spontaneous affairs invariably started by white police. I don't know whether you're going to have riots I don't know I should assume that they're out of that phase now riots and there will be more turf I think of single lax single dangerous acts we've got that the face I think for an awful lot of trouble. So if you're going to persist with this system. White people running black people's lives very badly. You know let black people start running their own lives. Give them their own power. Why people never did anything for blacks but betrayed them over the years. Jimmy you gave a speech at Boston University in which you discussed city social problems and the solutions which you and Norman Mailer developed. If I may interrupt our conversation at this point I'd like to play a section of that speech for our audience. Jimmy Breslin. We tend to look at the city in which we were born and
raised and educated and whatever success we had with that and I think the things we spoke about in the campaign still hold true. It was an awful lot of good people got together and we looked at this and we thought we knew that from a different level of the politicians first class the people know it. I mean it is an intellectual exercise running a city it isn't a matter of what's right or what's Once a matter of luck you can build a place of people at a time like this. The first thing we decided was obviously you cannot have a city this size and have a type of a rural dominated state legislature. So we decide to make a state. Have sounded like a medical thing. Make no mistake now it's gotta be the way it's going to go on an early flight series Sam aspect of that idea. Regional Government because you just can't turn on the radar and now the deterioration in the city
of New York has been steady and dramatic. Now it's starting to runners in the hood starting to shout with last the South Bronx with Brownsville and proclaim we're losing Plax of Jamaica Avenue in Queens it seems up for grabs and the city's a prisoner of the war crime and. It's a prisoner of a federal accidents which put together the states in the union. We can't survive without any running the city of New York. The money has to come directly to the city and when you plan a city that size and if that's the money you can step it break it down because the never maps of the city and we're up to number one now in a series of. Jimmy this was an innovative proposal you made in your speech would you not agree. I don't think there are in America right. Just think the situation calls for them when there were very obvious things to do. Are you going to cut a large city such as New York or from a rural dominated state
legislature you've got to do that first. It's very apparent It has to be done it's gonna be done someday in one form or another so why not do it now by let this process go one you've got to give the city some power over its own money get its own money situation straighten out it produces all the revenue produces an enormous amount of revenue for the nation out let's straighten this city out a little bit. The way you do it is give it its power over its own destiny and give the neighborhoods of the city power over their own destinies. It's government by remote control that causes all the trouble it produces rages in the areas of the city they don't know who they feel we've lost the way they know we've lost their way but there's no sense of wonder they don't know who to turn to it's some remote distant bureaucrats are running their lives and doing a very bad job at it. I think the people in the neighborhoods could run it better. I mean there's always a scandal when somebody in a poverty program steals money. Scandal in the white newspapers and in the black neighborhoods everybody applauds they think stealing from the federal government. You should get a medal
for it. If they were running their own business and I wasn't run by some vague agency it was run right in their own neighborhood. People are less apt to steal from their neighbors as they would cut it down considerably. Then for you local control is the answer when Absolutely it's the only way out. Police so lease absolute police when you talk about local control you would say to my local control of money and of services including police fire and education. Jimmy I'd like to pause in our conversation once again because I want to play a second portion of your speech a portion which he elaborates the same local control approach to urban problems. Jimmy Breslin. And I have to come down to render the word integration. That's probably who has married the break than anything we've had in this country some people have the fight of their lives to think it's the finest moments of their lives finest moments. It was wonderful and it was at his near Fallujah integration of the city and you have
never read it and you can't write the only way we could see it was to give neighborhoods the power as the neighborhoods are for example a black neighborhood should have control over its own destinies. I think for some reason in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant new you have read noticed as we went along that there was a certain weariness among black people looking in another right political candidate because I've ever gotten from the right people will be traveling over the years. Therefore we travel with the condition of the schools and the police the animosity between the police and the people we know that there are 30 members of the New York ran their own businesses and random and that the extent of having black police having black teachers in the schools and setting their own standards for what's a teacher. I mean once a teacher a teacher sent to communicate we noticed that a couple of places in their work they ran the experiment and there was a janitor was teaching the first year ahead and reading because he can remember these kids but he wasn't against them I
think that if you met a black kid in a school in the city of New York you say for leaving him home to write Sesame Street then you have. The same thing. If they wanted they wanted it their own. They run of the school and they're going to be taxed more and more because we've got a teacher we've got to treat the black neighborhoods like the underdeveloped African nations bring them up bring them up with a lot of money there in the white neighborhoods was going to be that way and I was not making many friends but I think it's the only way you're going to survive in that city as it is now the trouble with police is they live in suburbs. Well I've got three kids and I run a mass of people along and he comes in to Syria and Iraq and their program in Harlem for an hours that's the only time he's in the cities for eight hours in a private neighborhood firehouse to Larry the families got three kids he's nervous or you know your mother but he can get her to
another you get an action hero or an animosity on both sides. The sooner we get the right police and other inputs like police in the neighborhoods like police who live in the neighborhoods where they police in the general area I think there will be much better off and crowds in New York I could knock you out. Jimmy as you just heard the audience greeted with applause your speech proposal for local control of police. Now that would mean not black policemen patrolling the streets of Harlem and Puerto Rican policeman patrolling Spanish Harlem. We should have had that a long time ago a white policeman coming into a black neighborhood to white policemen with three kids he's afraid he's leery he doesn't live in the city he lives in the suburbs right away when something happens he goes to a security which is a sticker or a gun. That is a policing that's provocation and he's afraid with a very good reason because the people in neighborhood don't like him. He's got to think of his wife and three kids at home the policeman So you've got to
consider his plight too. I don't think it's right to ask him to go into those neighborhoods. What about local control when it comes to schools there was a long fight over that led by the white dominated teachers union against black control of the Bedford-Stuyvesant area schools. So why the resistance. Because they resist anything that would give the blacks a break they resist at all times because I'm a mean the way to have to give up some of the what they think is their God given rights to control everything. I mean there's no other side to this question than Albert Shanker was and I admit all wrong. He was a thousand percent wrong I think is the worst thing that happened the city of New York in my lifetime. And it's now recognized that there was a mistakes made. But the theory still holds it must be put in a practice someplace. Well why are mistakes made so often in the governing. For urban areas I heard you at Boston University talk about the problem of who makes the decisions that affect the lives of the average city dweller. Your approach apparently was that those who
make the decisions don't live in the city themselves. But they make decisions that affect city people. That's right it's very true. Could you elaborate on that a little bit. Most cities are dominated by rural legislatures. Farmers make decisions for Milwaukee somebody here in the hills of Massachusetts makes decisions for Boston. A lobster peddler from Montauk Point Long Island makes decisions for New York City that's insanity. You need people in the city and you need people outside the legal profession. Lawyers dominate everything in life today and down negative people as a role. They're not noted for imaginations. You gotta get people who live in the city and work in the city and the rubber things into government. I mean I think bricklayers I think I am workers who should be in politics. Is it really all that simple. So you had autonomy for a city like New York cut Los Angeles off from the rest of California cut Detroit off from Michigan we're going to have it anyway we're going to have you're going to have a country
of regions so many regions will have 60 65 States you're going to have it one way or the other some day. So why not look at it now and start thinking about it well that really saw all the trouble that's going to start it's going to start to put the thing into better perspective that the cities of the country must have some control over their own destiny. Well take poverty for example or take education the failure of our schools to educate the nation's minority groups will city people be any more likely to spend the money take the interest decide in their hearts they want to make war on poverty for example in a rural dominated legislature seems to be out of here the people who do much better city people do much better with their own problems. You let people run their own problems. New Yorkers will spend the money to save Harlem. Sure they would. Why so confident why so many people to Montauk Point wouldn't know because you live there because you know that Harlem affects your neighborhood. The product of a bad education of a kid in Harlem. That's a product that last that that term in the city of New York for 50 years. If you can kill that situation you can save yourself a
lot of trouble over a long period of years it doesn't bottom out to a point when an educated kid comes out. Seems to me that if rural control in the Albany State Legislature were all that was standing in the way of progress and the New York City schools or in any major city schools that there would have been much more progress before this time I'm not as optimistic as you are about the ability of urban people to solve their own problems. What do the people in Queens can write about Harlem one of the people in Brooklyn but do you know if you don't give them the say over Hollymead give Harlem the say of a Harlem of Queens a say over Queens. You give Brooklyn the Selva Brooklyn. You don't have some white man sitting in city hall making decisions for everybody you break that city down into a number of cities New York City shouldn't be one said he should be a number of cities five at a minimum maybe more natural cities there should have almost what it would amount to a black mayor of the city for the black people because they had to listen to anything from white people they who they don't trust a white person anymore that's a joke. Any black person that tries a white person is going to be
silly. Got to be demented. The record is so clear that they shouldn't trust them that there can be no argument. What about trust between human beings and cities in general. You have been described as a person who's gotten close to a lot of individuals and is able to reflect what it's like for the little guy the anonymous soul in a city to live in. I always say it was a city like New York what is it like for the fellow that works hard mind his own business pays his taxes. What is it like for him to live in a city like New York for very high and very frustrating he's got to ride a subway 45 minutes an hour in an incredibly packed conditions suffer great indignities at high cost and reads in the papers about poverty program was full of money going out the window all over the place and he goes into a rage he can't do anything about it. His education of his kids stinks the white high schools in nearly all white high schools are turning out very low numbers of kids prepared for college. This is a
system that's falling down around them. It's very very hard he's afraid of crime crime is terrible. Jimmy let's lead those around the country who might have just tuned into our discussion know who we're talking to we're talking with Jimmy Breslin famous columnist formerly with The New York Herald Tribune now with New York Magazine in New York. And we're talking about city problems for the moment. Jimmy Breslin here in the second half of the program I wonder if we could talk about some of the social and racial problems this country has been having. You once wrote that there are two weapons against oppression the symbolized one by the rioting the riots in the streets we've had over the past five or six years. The second weapon is symbolized by the freedom marchers the passive and nonviolent approach to use back in what seems to be the dawn of the civil rights movement is peaceful resistance a thing of the past as a gauntlet stuff that was written when we were all naive. Well why is it gone. Because it didn't work. Why didn't it work. Because white people didn't want to give up anything didn't want to do way nothing happen
plighted a black person living in an urban ghetto at the bottom of the heap is worse now measurably worse than it was five years ago. It was violence so the only alternative that the whites are going to like that anymore. In fact the white backlash to rioting in the inner core cities may yet turn into something that could get out of hand could become a North American homegrown fascism. What courses open to us we find. Violence is a dead end street and you're saying pasta resistance didn't work. Now what's the country going to become. That's why you know why worry. That's the question that makes you wary. Why we very badly I don't know when it's going to come to good use like you know speculating will ket to take a dramatic turn. So are you speculating and I don't know what will happen. Don't you think we've made any progress at all since the beginning of the U.S. the situation a condition of the black person living in a large city will take New York to Chicago. As Rice and dramatically
motley as in the last five years for the few on the top that make it starring the new black middle class and upper middle class all it does is make a wider gulf and for the white people they can say see these people are making it and they don't see the real damage. What about the tide of new conservatism that seems to be sweeping across the country. The election of law and order counted aides to the mayor's offices and so many cities around the country when crime goes up crime is up in Washington and Nixon and Mitchell got in. Are you one of those people who see law and order as a racist slogan. It's a phony slogan it's a phony slogan because you're not going to have law and order till you do something about the conditions that produce the lawlessness and need to be just a monopoly of the right wing in this country. Don't we all need law and order is a lot of the prerequisite every level for starters. Remember the daffy if they get hung up on times and words and they don't know what they're talking about the way to sell a good program for the black people is you've got to sell it to the white people saying
here this is protecting you. Don't say here you've got to do something for the blacks you got to say he had this is going to protect you. This is going to stop a black guy from peddling around in your bedroom tonight. That's what you sell. You just said liberals are daffy. No I'm not because they fight over the way it's Lowen or whatever but they're very quick to call people bigots and racists when the people are really afraid they don't recognize anyone else's problems but what they think of their problems they know about a liberal by definition and Western civilization that supposedly means someone who is tolerant who sees it or attempts to see all sides of the real liberal wing say in the city of New York is a very intolerant group of people. Sometimes I think the conservatives are not nearly as intolerant. Dick Gregory sat in front of that microphone a few months ago and said that the liberal in this country is as dead as a dodo. Would you agree that the liberal that's what I hope is is that is a dull dull Aloha that keeps tight and I'm out of reach Oh and what about liberalism as a creed as a movement under the Texan every definition of the way it is the only way in which you can live a sensible life I should think.
But the way it's turned into when the Riverside Drive sat in New York City that's another word that means whatever I like is right whatever I don't like is wrong. Do you think I'm smart and you're a dope. That's liberalism. Do you think that the liberals that pushed the McCarthy campaign in 1968 are savvy when it comes to politics and they learn how to compromise do they have a broad enough base of support. The complection of the McCarthy movement or some of the other reform movements around the country. Some of the reform democratic movements are very very good. And New York City it's a part of it is very good very strong response from what you describe the outward movement as being primarily lily white and suburban and affluent upper middle class whites not going to make it. It's got no chance to make it unless they hook in with the Young Labor leaders not all labor leaders or labor leaders are beyond redemption. You've got to hook into young people in the labor movement that will put teeth into one movement. They don't have any teeth now in this movement.
I mean it's fine it's beautiful it's important it's urgent that you have a movement to end this war just put pressure get out of that war before it takes us all down. I think the finest way to do it would be with a lot of 29 to 30 year old shop stewards from important plants getting in there politically aware guys who know what to do and you can find them. You just have to look hard. But it's very hard for the intellectuals to be forced to admit that they must get down and talk to these grabby people who work with their hands for a living. Very hard at the same time as you go look at the other way that the guy in my factory stopped him for a shot in the period after that. Looks at the college said with a little distaste through but you've got to work and get over that. They've got to put in with each other no question about it. You read the bumper stickers on the backs of cars saying America Love It Or Leave It. I saw one the other day which said America change it or lose it. How do
you react to these kinds of bumper stickers. What do you need bumper stickers ready and he buttons why do you need only signs for Gene McCarthy always had a very good the way we're copping the Roman Catholic Church with all these out what manifestations of a religion and you carried a pictures of your wife and family in your wallet at all times no I mean you don't have to have that eye on you to remind you of them. You love the country very much fine now go do something for it don't put a bumper sticker on there and say that's doing something. Alright one last question on the very end of this program Jenny do you love this country. Are you patriotic to pay him or is a pretty good place. It's got everything. And it's got the chance to do so much that it would stagger the imagination but there's room for incredible good to be done here which is why you get very impatient when it isn't on. Could you tell our audience why you are proud to be an American and why you think we just might be able to make it out of the 20th century as a nation
intact one people unified healthy alive no white pride I don't know if you're too proud of it right now war on people living in terrible conditions by design not by accident. The odds against a kid when he's born black of ever going any place are 100 to one that they come into the nursery in the hospital and they go up every day thereafter. Is there not something still good about this country a potential to solve the problems. Something still. Yeah there's going to be passion. There's a great compassion in the people much more compassion that I can find in other places. Mostly I got a lot of people that run and pander to their fears and to their unconscious reflexes against things rather than lead them drove the compassion out of them. There's great compassion it's just up to somebody to bring it out of the people. Jimmy Breslin thank you very much for coming on the program.
The views and opinions expressed on the preceding program do not necessarily represent those of the program host. Joseph R. Baylor Northeastern University board this station. Preston's asked where merely the moderators method of presenting many sides of today's topic. In cooperation with Boston University Northeastern University has brought you a Jimmy Breslin a nationally known journalist with The New York magazine. Today's program chains Jimmy Breslin on urban politics. Your program host has been Joseph Meyer baiter Director Department of radio production. Urban confrontation is produced for the division of instructional communications of the nation's largest private university. Northeastern University. Comments on this program or request for a recorded copy of any program in this series may be addressed to urban confrontation. Northeastern University Boston Massachusetts 0 2 1 1 find. This week's program was produced by Carolyn guardrail and directed by Robin Goff. Technical supervision by Jeffrey Feldman. The
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- Urban Confrontation is an analysis of the continuing crises facing 20th century man in the American city, covering issues such as campus riots, assassinations, the internal disintegration of cities, and the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation. Produced for the Office of Educational Resources at the Communications Center of the nations largest private university, Northeastern University.
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