Roberto Anazagasti heard them on 116th Street in East Harlem. "Now we got it. Now at last it's out day. It's Judgment Day for us," the voices said in the dark outside an East Harlem jewelry store.
At Broadway and Gates Avenue in Brooklyn, another part of New York that was plundered during the blackout, a former state senator, Walter B. Stewart, and some friends armed with steel pipes guarded the mid-Brooklyn Health Center.
"What amazed me was that it wasn't just kids looting. There were senior citizens out there, male and female," Stewart said.
Some of the looters called it Christmas in July and others reveled in their chance to beat the system, according to men who watched the looting. "Wednesday's people were people with no hope," Anazagasti said. "Their attitude is that "the system is rotten and it owes me this."
"Lots of them the tooters were 24 or 25 years old and I know them. They've been in jail, but they're never worked."
Anazagasti is executive director of the East Harlem Community Corp.
Reports describing New York as a city of terror during the blackout were wildly exaggerated, and the plunderers and arsonists who took advantage of the darkness did their work in small areas of a few blocks in some of the poorest and most nonwhite parts of the city.
But 3,500 people were arrested during the blackout and only 96 were arrested when New York's power failed in 1965. What changed in a dozen years?
The weather was different. It was a hot July night against a cool November one in 1965, but the whispers appeared to have started too quickly this time for weather to have been the only explanation.
"People's attitudes have changed," said police deputy chief inspector William Bracey. "During the intervening years disrespect for authority has grown because each year people are doing more illegal things and paying for them less."
With police keeping their guns in their holsters and with courts crowded beyond capacity. Bracey said: "There is no fear of any kind of physical punishment. There is no humiliation in being arrested or in being known to have been stealing."
As he watched looting in East Harlem, someone said to Anazagasti: "They should know better."
"Why should they know better?" Anazagasti asked today. "If you're saving money to go to school or something, then you're making sacrifices and you have a goal . What about someone with no goal and no alternative?
"They're going to rob and rib off and eat to survive."
A black police sergeant in Brooklyn turned that coin onto its other side: I hope you out of town people tell it like it is. The lights went out. A bunch of greedy people took advantage, plan and simple. Don't go with all that sociological b . . ." The sergeant described the area of his precinct, the Blst, as "bad." He didn't want his name used.
The "bad" areas of New York have changed demographically since 1965. They are as much as 30 per cent more nonwhite and they are the only parts of the city in which the average age has been dropping, according to Abraham C. Burstein, who has studied the city's population for years.
According to 1974 figures, as many as 40 per cent of all families in these areas, not counting the old and the sick, were on welfare, he said.
Officially, unemployment among East Harlem's 160,000 people has doubled to 15 per cent since 1965, Anazagasti said. The official figures, however, are hugely understated.
Anazagasti believes 85 per cent of the young men in East Harlem are unemployed. He was stacks of applications on his desk for jobs that pay $100 a week.
"The government is lackidaisical," he says. "These people will do whatever they have to do to live, even killing. I'm not saying it's right, but people (outside East Harlem) have to understand that."
He said that the looters concentrated on stores selling merchandise that could be quickly sold for cash.
They weren't taking televisions for their homes, he said, but to turn into cash for their urgent needs.
Stewart, the former state senator from Brooklyn, said unemployment in his area is 40 per cent, although it is kept quiet.
"Look at these kids," he said pointing to a group. "No education, no work. They got no place to go, nothing to do. It's hot. They're on the streets. Looting is fun."
The blackout looting has become a racial issue. Mayor Abraham D. Beame gave five press conferences Thursday lambasting the arrested looters, who were almost all black or Spanish-speaking young men. Political writerd quickly predicted that the stealing would hurt the mayoral campaigns of Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton, the only black candidate, and Democratic Rep. Herman Badillo, a Hispanic American.
Donald E. Moore, president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said the urban areas of the United States have become infested with "a predatory underclass."
He said that a pathology in the ghetto has led to mass paranoia which excuses any behavior "because of the feeling that everything is hopeless because of racism."
Moore doesn't believe the crowds of unemployed youths really want jobs. He went on a tour of the Brooklyn damage with Beame today and said he found the youths who shouted. "We want jobs" insincere. "I was as depressed by that as I was by the condition of the buildings," he said.
In Brooklyn and in East Harlem Thursday night looters expressed scorn for the store-owners whose property they had been stealing.
An onlooker in Brooklyn, Josea Gary, 27, acknowledged that jobs would be lost because of the looting and burining. "But not for the people in the neighborhood. We don't work in the Broadway stores."
Columbia University Professor Richard Cloward said. "I don't think anybody really understands why things like this start." He said he was surprised that there had not been a riot or looting in New York earlier.
Pressures of unemployment have been growing at the same time that there has been a new rhetoric encouraging activism - from President Carter, he said, adding that once again, hopes are being raised but no real improvements follow.
Neither Cloward nor Frances Piven, who have co-authored a book on uprisings of low-income Americans in this century, saw the looting as a sinister indication that New York had changed drastically since the 1965 blackout.
Why not compare the looting this week to the 1964 riot instead? Piven suggested. In 1964, Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant burned and were looted as they were during the blackout.
One fact about the riots of the 1960s. Cloward said, is that cities did not have major riots twice. Urban disorder spread to new places, but did not recur in Watts or Harlem or Newark or Detroit. When the 1965 blackout came, New York had just had a major riot.
Looting, Piven said, is a way of venting anger and of satisfying people's desire for material goods that is stimulated by advertising every day. "When low-income people get angry there isn't much that they can do about things," she said. "The blackout was a trigger."
And looting, as Piven sees it, is also a calculated risk. In the areas of the city where police protection is less strong and where the potential victimes are less prominent, it can be done more safely.
"What would hve happened if they had gone to Fifth Avenue? They would have been shot. They know that," she said.
Inspector Bracey said much the same thing. "They stay where they are most knowledgeable, where they feel more comfortable. They stay in their own areas."
Bracey, however, believes government officials must move to stop the growing spirit of lawlessness that he describes or else: "If we have lights out again in 10 years we will have much more widespread stealing and more people involved."
In Geneva, U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young was asked about his reactiin to the looting in New York and replied: "If you turn the lights out, folks will steal. They'll do that in Switzerland, too. . . They'll do that especially if they're hungry, and you've got to realize that in New York you're probably running at unemployment levels of 30 to 40 per cent amongst young adults."