East Yonkers : Residents’ Reactions
to the Desegregation Case
After being filed in 1980 and argued for five years, Judge Sand demanded that the city desegregate its housing and schools. Within minutes of his decision, the whites in east Yonkers flamed red-hot with rage: their perfect little neighborhoods were about to be assaulted and taken siege by poor minorities. So while many whites felt as though their neighborhoods were about to lose their identity, Judge Sands just wanted East Yonkers to open it borders and let minorities in so that they might have the possibility to ameliorate their lives. Judge Sand said that he was “excited for the greater community of Yonkers…I see great hope in this opinion in providing a vehicle for the community to heal any wounds that might exist and to vindicate the rights of the minority community to encourage new approaches to race relations.” While the judge serendipitously voiced his decision, some communities in East Yonkers did not reciprocate that emotion. Belkin notes that one former priest said a person’s ethnic history could be read in his street address, and as if it would make everyone happier, he wanted people of like ethnicity to stay in their own part of town. It is comments like this and their supporters that make people prejudicial. How could one who is supposed to welcome the poor and lowly stranger express opinions that are so antithetical to his religion? The only answer was that he was prejudiced against minorities. Because of the unwillingness to see what his new neighbors might be like, he judged them on their stereotypes, “people with no morals and take drugs”. He felt as though these minorities, mainly Blacks and Latinos, would fill his neighborhood with the problems those people faced in their ghettos and projects: poverty, prostitution, and crime, all of which would negatively affect the image of the neighborhood and the morality of the next generation. And because of his standing, his influence also affected the parishioners; they too believed the same preconceived notions about minorities. Since no one would educate them otherwise, the white citizens in Yonkers continued their prejudice.
Another priest felt similar feelings towards the new integration policy. Archbishop John Cardinal O’Connor was asked to sign away land that used to house a seminary for the proposed housing in the Dunwoodie section of Yonkers, which would receive 200 units of housing. At first he was apprehensive about having public-housing in his neighborhood because he believed some of the stereotypes about minorities in Southwest Yonkers, but he had to waive his right to ultimately decide when the government said it was going to use imminent domain to forcibly take the church’s land. Thus, Archbishop O’Connor reluctantly gave the city the church’s land, and said that this action exhibited the church’s help for assisting the victims of discrimination. His actions outraged the surrounding neighbors. Rita Dushock was quick to tell the New York Times that she and some other parishioners showed the betraying Catholic Church their disapproval by no longer tithing. Additionally, she felt extremely opposed to the proposed housing. She said, “I think it’s a shame…They’ll spoil the neighborhood with graffiti. They don’t care because they don’t own the housing.” Mrs. Dushock quickly branded all minorities as people who don’t value the honor of homeownership. Assuming media’s coverage of minorities’ behaviors, she did not wait for their arrival and be her own judge of their characters. Another neighbor, Bernadette McLaughlin, said that “if Yonkers is guilt of four decades of discrimination, then everyone must share the burden.” Although Mrs. McLaughlin indirectly attacked minorities, she wanted the rest of Yonkers to suffer the same fate and live with minorities, whom she believed will live up to their treacherous reputations. The words of these two women blatantly reflect how judgmental individuals react when government policies “jeopardize” their tranquil communities that have for decades maintained a sense of purity.
Not only were Christian churches challenging the proposed housing sites, but Jewish communities voiced their concerns vividly. One Jewish neighborhood, who Rabbi Bernhard represented, callously spoke towards their councilmen who supported the housing plan. They would rally and protest, chanting things like “…get some guts and stand up. Or put it in your neighborhood”. It is ironic that a theology that has experience so much prejudice in their own history would censure minorities to the same fate. Even looking at the history of Jews in Yonkers, communities would have rather lived next to middle-class Blacks than dead Jewish families. One would have thought that Jews would be in solidarity with Blacks and Latinos, yet they became advocates of the partial attitudes towards them: minorities were drug-ridden, poor, uneducated races, who know nothing about class and culture.
To raise factual awareness about the many convictions of minorities, citizens should have read Donald R. Cressey’s 1964 book titled Delinquency, Crime, and Differential Association. In his book Cressey says that people associate high crime rates with negative images of Negroes because they tend to live in the central city at higher proportions. Though this is the case, Cressey argues that no matter what the residents’ cultural origin may be, one culture or another does not account for high crime rates because central city areas always experience the most crime in a city. Another scholar also believed crime rates were independent of race. Professor Hans Eysenck wrote his 1964 book Crime and Personality in which he found that crime rates and tendency to commit a crime is based on a socio-psychological kind. Because blacks tend to have a higher percentage of broken families with absent fathers, that fact may be the [aetiological] psychological significant reason for increased offences against the law. But clearly citizens of east Yonkers vehemently expressed their opinions regardless what scholars have written about crime and minorities. If they would have read those and other academic writings, claims made on the basis of stereotypes would have screamed to individuals “you are a bigot!” Whites in East Yonkers would have seen their accusations emanated from prejudicial roots and not simply the smokescreen excuse that they were being concerned neighbors. Peter Smith, the executive director of the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority said that eastern residents verified their predispositions from the anonymity of the projects, where it is a perfect breeding ground for dealing drugs and street crime. However, Mr. Smith said that the majority of public-housing tenants are law-abiding citizens and that the crime is committed by outsiders. He noted, “They are the ones that people are afraid of. They are the ones that have somehow been identified as the project people.” Suburbanites should not apply stereotypes to potential neighbors of color; it should be an American right to be accepted by a society that is color blinded.
 Ibid., 14.
 Williams, Lena, “Judge Finds Yonkers has Segregation Policy,” New York Times, November 21, 1985, Front Page.
 Belkin, Show Me a Hero, 122.
 Ibid., 33.
 Feron, James, “Church Embroiled in Yonkers’ Bias Case,” New York Times, March 31, 1988.
 Belkin, Show Me a Hero, 33.
 Psychology and Racism. Edited by Peter Watson, 286-452. (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1999), 434.
 Ibid., 445.
 Rimer, Sara, “Yonkers Anguish: Black and White in 2 Worlds,” New York Times, December 22, 1897, Front Page.