Alphaville: 1988, Crime, Punishment and the Battle for New York City’s Lower East Side By Michael Codella and Bruce Bennett St. Martin’s Press, 304 pps., $25.99 It's true! New York's streets are really, really mean.

The mean streets of New York City have always held a special place in urban lore: the arteries of “the naked city,” as the gritty wisdom goes, with millions of stories flowing through them daily. Ideally situated and sufficiently cynical to recount those tales is the crime reporter, or, if he is literary, the cop. If he’s not, but can snag a co-author, all the better. Which is exactly what detective Mike Codella did to write Alphaville, an account of 1980s drug wars in the boho capital of the world—Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East Village, south of 14th Street and east through Avenues A, B, C, and D—told in tough-guy talk so extreme it borders on self-parody, but nonetheless never loses the reader. For anyone who has ever spent time in “Loisaida,” before it became what it resembles now, “the Epcot Center,” as Codella aptly phrases it, this book evokes it all, sometimes unpleasantly. There were drugs, punk rockers, an AIDS epidemic, Hell’s Angels, casual sex, postmodern artists of every sort, Hare Krishnas, crime, projects, and those desperate to escape them. There was a real-estate boom, with landlords evicting penniless tenants from squalid welfare hotels at gunpoint, in order to unload the buildings for multiple times what they paid for them. And, as Alphaville stresses in graphic detail, Avenue D was ground zero for the international heroin trade. So of course there were assaults, robberies, murders, and more junkies than anyone could count. Many of these addicts could be described using Codella’s words for one: “He looked like he died but forgot to lie down.” This was Codella’s beat; he had it because he wanted it. He didn’t want to bide his time until retirement; he wanted to put bad guys behind bars, which he did with such gusto and regularity that he became known in the East Village as “Rambo” and his partner as “Fastback.” They earned those nicknames because they took certain disgusting crimes personally and would not ignore them—for instance, the case of a girl imprisoned in her apartment by drug-dealing low-lifes, who addicted her, raped her, and impregnated her. When Rambo and Fastback learned of this, they went ballistic and several violent arrests ensued. Alphaville contains another story of imprisonment and abuse in Brooklyn’s Coney Island projects, and in both cases, it’s hard to see how the victims could possibly have survived without police intervention. The depths of such wickedness are sickening, but not, sadly, out of the ordinary in an environment that “the average white bread cop some kind of jungle where amoral human animals preyed on each other and got what they deserved.” This was not Codella’s view. He saw lots of decent, beleaguered citizens in Loisaida. “We didn’t see their neighborhood as an irredeemable ghetto that needed to be walled up or nuked. We saw it as salvageable. We liked it there.”

Our Readers Say

I lived across from Tompkins Square from the mid 1970's thru to the 1991. In that time I witnessed street crimes on an almost daily basis - and when the sun went down - well, it was every man or woman for themselves. Codella's account is as accurate a vision that a writer could recreate. But I do give NYC much credit. People stand and fight. They do not retreat. It may take decades - but NYC prevails because the social fabric of the residents remains rooted in toughness. I now live in Las Vegas.
If an event as tragic as 9/11 had happened here - it would be a ghost town today.
I moved to 381 E. 10th Street in the summer of 1967 and left the neighborhood in the fall of 1992. In the '70s there were blocks the cops wouldn't drive down, and generally they did diddly-squat about local crime, couldn't be bothered... The Ninth Precinct was famous for being hard on whoever was inside the stationhouse on Fifth Street... so the people who lived in the nabe had to manage justice on their own... The nabe is more like Las Vegas now, almost unrecognizable with all the bars and sidewalk cafes, nowhere near as much soul...
I became a Detective because I lived in The L.E.S at that time and it was a jungle ,I lost lots of friends to drugs and the violance ,I remember Rambo and his partner Babyface . At the time they were ruthless and unafraid to take on those streets ,and I'm glad they did . New York City is not the same from those 1980's days but I say it's because of Cops like Michael Codella . I like to thank him ,I am now a Detective and proud of it .
I'll be taking a look at this while not actively promoting my own fictional account of those bad old days when the East Village was a neighborhood of artists, dreamers, hustlers, devil worshipers, anarchists, junkies and yuppies — all competing for breathing space in a city without air during the era of greed, when the poor were objects of scorn not sympathy, and the gentrifiers viewed themselves as urban pioneers.
Saved from 3rd : From the bottom of my heart I'd like to thank you for recognizing the work my partner and I did. I'd also like to express to you how proud I am that you rose above the violence, the drugs, and the temptation of drug money to become not only one of New York's Finest, but a detective therein. Reading your words reminds me that everyday I worked on the Lower East Side was worth it if only to allow someone like yourself to create a better life for you and your family. Congrats on your accomplishments!
Growing up in the Lower East Side in the late 70's and 80's was truly hard yet it was the only place that I would have lived. The bonds that where made with your friends live till this day. I live in Philadelphia now and every chance I get I go back and still find the old friends that I grew up with. No matter how mean they say these streets were, you can say with pride, that it was the foundation to alot of the people's futures. A lot of good people came from "these mean streets" so be proud cause there is nothing better than saying, that you grew up in the "Lower East Side"
"Salvageable" that's what many of us were, growing up on the Ave.D. Resilience is the miracle of the poor. I recall wonderful and hard working families, doing everything they could to keep their children away from the drugs, sex and other hazards. In my family the recourse was to send us away in the summer to the Dominican Republic. My mother would work overtime in a factory to save and send us away. It worked, we made it through high school( good old Seward Park) college and advanced degrees. Determination shouldn't be underestimated. Like us there are many.
Baby face and Rambo...WOW
2 very feared housing cops from the lower.
I must say, alot of "us" dealers hated you guys.
If you see my face you will know who i am. I did and experienced it all on the ave.
In some kind of weird way i appreciate you guys trying to keep the projects clean. My mother still lives in Lillian walds and will never move. Thanks for making it safe for my mother and all other residents.
I cant believe you wrote a book. I'm picking it up this week.
I always tell people.. if i would write a book about all the murders and crimes that i witnessed it would be a seller lol.
I tried writing a list of home boys that got killed but the list was toooo long. Sadly True.
I bet if i mention every murder scene from columbia to 10 st. from Ave. D to Ave. B that i seen, you probably know them all.
Anyways i can stay here all day saying stuff but we probably have better things to do lol.
Take care.

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