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AlphavilleReview - Alphaville
1988, Crime, Punishment, and the Battle for New York City's Lower East Side
by Michael Codella and Bruce Bennett
Blackstone Audio, 2010
Review by Christian Perring
Mar 20th 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 12)

Codella's story of his time fighting drug dealers and junkies in Alphabet city in Manhattan is well told and entertaining.  It combines plenty of violence with portraits of people's lives gone wrong, poverty, prostitution, and Codella's own life.  Wandering the Lower East Side is now a pleasant experience, where the main problem is avoiding the teens who come in from New Jersey and Long Island and clutter the sidewalks.  Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s it was rather different, where drugs dealers were much more in the open, and especially out in Avenues A, B, C and D, there were crack houses all over.  Codella was one of the law enforcement officers who helped reduce the drug trade in that part of Manhattan.  Indeed, he gives the impression that he was one of the major players in this battle. 

Even though his father was a cop, Codella was not initially interested in following in his father's footsteps.  Indeed, he was engaged in petty crime as a teen and could have ended up on the wrong side of the law.  He discovered later on that his own grandfather had been involved with the Sicilian mafia.  Growing up in Brooklyn, Codella had good knowledge of tough guys and family connections, and he used that knowledge when he took on the task of trying to identify those in charge of the drug trade.  His story puts the drug trade on the Lower East Side in historical context of organized crime.  Obviously it is not a scholarly approach, and one might find it lacking in balance and depth, but it is still an interesting take.  While he is fairly sympathetic to people who are down on their luck, he does not give much of an explanation of how drug users end up becoming hooked and ruining their lives. 

This is very much a story from a cop's point of view.  The real strength of the book is in Codella's openness about his bending the rules in order to get results.  His main rule is that the ends justify the means, so he is ready to set up drug dealers or let them carry on their trade in exchange for information.  He has his own moral principles, and he beats up one lowlife drug dealer who forced a young woman into prostitution and got her hooked on drugs.  While he realizes that there are dangers in dispensing his own justice and breaking rules, he does not see these as fundamental wrongs.  Indeed, his story suggests that it is the only way to get results.  So this memoir provides plenty of examples for a course in the ethics of criminal justice about what is indeed moral behavior for law enforcement officers.

The unabridged audiobook is read by Keith Szarabajka, who is god at the different accents and has a pleasantly gritty voice that fits well with the tone of the book.

 

© 2012 Christian Perring        

 

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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