Crime in the Streets--and City Elections

Brass Tacks

William F. Buckley Jr. has stolen the show in New York's Mayoralty race. Originally slated for a bit part, the haughty, scornful, sometimes incisive Conservative candidate has enlivened a production previously deadened by the broken-record repetitiousness of the predicted star, John V. Lindsay. The pollsters report that only Buckley is making gains among the audience-electorate.

But if Buckley receives 11 to 15 per cent of New York City's votes (compared to previous Conservatives' two to five per cent), his showing will not be a result of his sophisticated style, any more than of his Irish ancestry. Instead, his concentration on what pundits call the crime issue will be primarily responsible.

This crime issue has been raging in the nation's courts for the last ten years, but only recently have politicians been speaking to voters about it. The real dispute, of course, is not about crime--everyone is against that--but about what police should do with the persons they detain, arrest, and question. Recent Supreme Court rulings have tended to extend the rights of individuals in police custody. Buckley thinks that these rulings have tied the policeman's hands, and he wants to unleash the police on anyone who might be a criminal.

Buckley appeals to what I would call casual bigots. Most casual bigots would not say anything impolite to a Negro but would quickly sell their homes "if one moved in on the block." Casual bigots want, above all, stability; that means middle class, all-white neighborhoods and schools. Politicians can persuade most casual bigots to support civil rights legislation, but the prospect of ever-increasing Negro demands has made them profoundly uneasy. They have seized upon the crime issue, which to them means Negro violence, as an outlet for their incoherent fears.

But if Buckley appeals to these voters, he is not one of them. Nor are there nearly so many casual bigots in New York as in two other cities with municipal elections in 1965: Detroit and Los Angeles. Both contests are nonpartisan, leaving the candidates free from the major parties' aversions to quasi-racial appeals. Both cities have Mayors who have taken strong stands on the crime issue, and on opposite sides.

Mayor Samuel H. Yorty of Los Angeles has stood squarely behind Police Chief William H. Parker, who believes solidly in hard-nosed, no-holds-barred law enforcement. Chief Parker is not an admirer of the U.S. Supreme Court nor of civil rights organizations, which have criticized him constantly. Mayor Yorty is just as hostile to such groups. He pictures himself as persecuted by professional liberals, civil rights leaders, the state of California, and the federal government; certainly he has been able to cooperate with none of them. (For example, Los Angeles has no poverty program.) Yorty takes all this abuse only to protect the little guy, i.e., the Los Angeles homeowner-and-casual bigot.

Apparently this little guy likes his Mayor. In the election last spring he gave Yorty a suprisingly large 3-2 majority over liberal Democrat James Roosevelt. Consistent Yorty hecklers on the City Council suddenly found themselves ousted. Chief Parker's tenure was guaranteed.

Of course, that's not all that's happened in Los Angeles in the past few months. The city's Negroes rioted, and for all Chief Parker's and Mayor Yorty's protestations, the two men clearly bear responsibility for the racial violence. Los Angeles's Negroes are economically no worse off than those in cities where there were no riots. But they feel totally isolated from the city government. Yorty, who is probably a sincere casual bigot, just doesn't like to pay much attention to them; Chief Parker sees that the police keep them in their place.

Yorty and Parker do not seem to have learned the obvious lesson of the riots: policies that liberals have long called immoral are utterly impractical as well. Instead, the Mayor and his chief have denounced civil rights leaders, left-wingers, and federal interference even more vehemently than before. Yorty is supposed to be itching to run for Governor in the 1966 Democratic Primary against Pat Brown; he has already shown that he can take votes from liberal candidates by exploiting the crime issue.

Another sort of Mayor entirely is Detroit's Jerome P. Cavanagh. Cavanagh and Yorty were both elected in surprise victories in 1961. Yorty proceeded to rehire a hard-line police commissioner and to turn a calm racial situation into a bloody one. Cavanagh took office following a tremendous Negro protest to a harsh police crackdown, and he hired as police commissioner a liberal Justice of the Michigan State Supreme Court, George Edwards. Edwards, who is now a Federal Circuit Judge, immediately antagonized the police by insisting on equal treatment for Negroes. His insistence paid off: a 1963 incident (a policeman shot a Negro prostitute; Edwards ruled it self-defense) that would have sparked a riot in many cities, led to only token picketing in Detroit.

Meanwhile, Cavanagh has continually tried to keep in contact with the rank and file as well as the leaders in the Negro community. He has set up the most advanced and far-reaching antipoverty program in the nation, and has put the city on a sound financial basis at the same time.

Consequently, Cavanagh faces easy reelection in November. Last month he received 63.4 per cent of the vote in a 12-man primary. His main opponent, a salesman named Walter Shamie, wants to unleash the police and, despite denials, is obviously bidding for the casual bigot vote. He will probably not get too much of it. Cavanagh, like President Johnson against Barry Goldwater, has too much else going for him.

But the Mayor himself may also have gotten through to the casual bigots. By taking a strong, unmistakable stand for equal treatment for all individuals, and making it work, Cavanagh has shown some casual bigots that the consequences of liberal policies are not so terrifying after all. He is appealing to their casualness rather than to their bigotry, and apparently successfully. Detroit is no paradise for Negroes, but they get better treatment from police there than in other large cities and they have more and more opportunities to move into neighborhoods that are integrated--and seem likely to stay integrated. In contrast, Los Angeles is not a very comfortable place for anyone: casual bigot, white liberal, or Negro.