Long ago I saw a film called The Way We Were. This was not some small time indie – no this was the full-blown Hollywood love story. Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford starred and headlined this film. Though, on its surface, it was a romance between two people, two different people, it was really about all of us. What drove us at a point in our lives when we thought that what we cared most about was all that really mattered. Looking back, the phrase rang true – the way we were.
In Show Me a Hero, the HBO miniseries created by David Simon and directed by Paul Haggis, we sat through the first two-thirds of this six-part series, and watched as what apparently all that mattered in Yonkers, New York, in the late 80’s until 1994, was the color of your neighbor’s skin.
I pointed out the story line switches between seemingly unconnected various minority characters seemed both jarring and unexpected. We were asked to absorb stereotypical characters of the political persuasion, And we were tasked with feeling repulsed by characters who cloaked racism in terms relating to property values.
It was both difficult and disappointing. I mean it was hard and unsettling to absorb that some Caucasian residents of Yonkers referred to the black people of Yonkers in a variety of unsavory ways: Those people – they don’t want what we want…or they live like animals, or what others yelled from passing cars, N—— go home!
Or politicians who placed harmony in the community well behind grasping and keeping power.
Yeah, then factor in the fact that much of this was set in City Hall meeting rooms, bars, court rooms, judges chambers, or in the streets. As well as the homes of the pols, the white majority, and the black minority.
Nick Wasicsko was a City Council member, a lawyer, and a former cop, who ran on a platform opposing the federally mandated housing, got elected Mayor of Yonkers. But once in office, he saw that opposing Judge Sand would be both impossible, and cost prohibitive. So he switched gears and eventually plans were not only submitted and Yonkers was going to put in 200 units of low-income housing.
But things were far from over. Another City Council Member, One Hank Spallone, who had always been against the housing, vowed to continue to fight. So he won the next Yonkers Mayoral election. Mayors in Yonkers serve only two-year terms. Spallone was in and Wasicsko was out.
But Spallone was destined to be unable to overturn or overcome the law. So construction began.