Giuliani and Violence in Pre-9/11 New York

With all the hype surrounding the myth of Rudy Giuliani as a hero of 9/11--and the occasional story about Giuliani's penchant for petticoats--few people remember the cloud of violence that shrouded the tenure as Mayor of New York City.

Almost from the start of his first term, and right up to the morning of September 11, 2001, Giuliani's reign was dominated not by talk of his patriotism, but by troubling discussions of racial profiling, police shootings of unarmed black men, and abuses of power to justify anti-crime policies that seem to terrorize substantial portions of New York City's diverse population. 

Unfortunately, the violence in Giuliani's New York has been effectively hidden behind high-impact PR patriotism designed to sell Giuliani to American voters.

To recover the reality of violence and controversy that surrounded Giuliani as an elected official, we need only return to the media discussion that dominated the national airwaves just prior to 2001. 

Even A Martian Could See It

March 15, 2000.  Unarmed, off-duty security guard Patrick Dorismond is shot dead by undercover police officer Anthony Vasquez.  Desmond is a Haitian immigrant.  In follow up investigations, the record shows that Vasquez attempted to lure Desmond into a drug by by inquiring about purchasing marijuana.  Amidst murky details and rising concern over the number of unarmed black men gunned down by New York police, Mayor Rudy Giuliani releases the Patrick Desmond's juvenile records, claiming as justification for what happened.  When questioned about the illegality of releasing sealed juvenile records, Giuliani claims that such restrictions do not apply to dead men.  At Desmond's funeral in Brooklyn, thousands of protesters clash with local police--frustrated by the cycle of police violence against black men to have emerged  during Giuliani's 7 years as mayor.

Talking about the
killing of Desmond and Giuliani's
subsequent illegal release of Desmond's juvenile records, Bob Beckel summed up
the cloud of violence that surrounded New York City's mayor at the time:

BOB BECKEL:  Assemblyman Ravitz, I know that you and other Giuliani supporters have said that Democrats have politicized the Dorismond issue and the mayor's reaction to it, but if you wouldn't mind me just reading you a few others. Amadou Diallo, unarmed, committing no crime, black, shot 41 times, and then smeared by Giuliani and police. Gideon Bush, mentally ill, no crime, shot, killed by -- excuse me -- wounded by police, killed by police, smeared by Giuliani and the police department. Dante Johnson , black, unarmed, committing no crime, shot by police, smeared by Giuliani and the police. Nathaniel Green, unarmed, committing no crime, shot and killed by police, smeared by Giuliani and the police department. Not to mention Louima, who was sodomized.

Now even a Martian can see pattern there. Don't you see one?

(Crossfire, CNN Apr 7, 2000)

At the time, the debate was not about Giuliani as 9/11 hero versus Giuliani as architect of brutal anti-crime policies that terrorized non-white neighborhoods. Predictably, the conservative press attacked critics of Giuliani for smearing what was touted as Giuliani's sterling record on reducing crime in the city.  Voicing for that conservative argument, then host of Crossfire Mary Matalin tried to frame the debate about Giuliani by using crime statistics:

MATALIN: Let me pick it up there, Congressman Nadler, because the responsible way to do anything in politics is to try to resist demagoguery and race baiting and all of that and let's look at the facts, and let's put it in context. These so-called intentional shootings have reduced by 71 percent under Giuliani. Let's go some -- through some of the facts instead of some of the high-profile tragedies. They've declined by 77 percent. The New York Police Department has a stellar record on restraint, that is holding fire. There are over twice as many intentional shootings in the Dinkins administration as there were under Giuliani. These were tragedies, but they are not even anywhere near -- as nearly prolific as they were in the Dinkins administration, and no one said his administration was out of control. And in fact, in his administration, the crime rate was not reduced -- the murder reduced by 70 percent and overall crime reduced by 50 percent as they are in the Giuliani administration. So could we give this some context instead of demagoguery?

(Crossfire, CNN Apr 7, 2000)

And here we see what was the conservative approach to framing Giuliani at the time: blame it on the Democrats.  Specifically, Matalin tried to shift blame for police shootings of black men under Giuliani to what conservatives described as a true era of tragedies under the previous, Democratic mayor, David Dinkins.  Matalin's non-sequitor defense of Giuliani's brutal policies can be summed as follows,"Sure Giuliani's police kill innocent unarmed black men, but David Dinkins was a bad mayor."

But in 2000, prior to 9/11, discussions of Giuliani were not produced in million-dollar PR campaigns, but actually took place in what appears through today's eyes to have been relatively balanced political debate.  Responding to Matalin's non-sequitor claims about Dinkins, Jerry Nadler (D-NY) gave Matalin the following clarification of the actual evolution of community policing in New York during the 1990s--explaining both the contributions and deadly mistakes of Giuliani's policies [emphasis mine]:

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Well first of all, some of your facts are correct and some are not, and I am not here to criticize the mayor or defend Mayor Dinkins. I said something very different this morning, but let's have a few facts first. The fact is, that starting in the latter part of the Dinkins administration, they adopted community policing. Mayor Giuliani, when he was inaugurated, increased the community policing and adopted the so- called "broken window" strategy that had been promoted by a number of criminologists, and these two strategies combined had a great effect in reducing crime rates, for which I think the mayor deserves great deal of credit.

In the current administration, since the, I'd say the beginning of '97, he seems to have abandoned the broken-window strategy and gone to a zero-tolerance strategy of just arresting as many people as possible for minor crimes, with no discretion, and this has led to increasing conflicts with local communities, especially minority communities, as there are increasing numbers, 45,000 stop and frisks of which resulted in 10,000 arrests, which meant 35,000 people who were innocent were stopped and frisked. And this is causing a lot of problems.

In these instances that we're talking about here -- and I wish the mayor would return to the strategy he originally adopted, which was very successful in reducing crime. But the instances that we're talking about here are instances -- and I am not blaming the police necessarily or saying they did anything wrong. Maybe they did and maybe they didn't. But I am saying something else: When we know in these cases, in at least five recent cases, where it is clear that the people who were shot by the police were innocent of anything, it was a mistake on the part of the police, clearly, no one denies that. No one denies that Amadou Diallo was doing anything exempt reaching for his wallet. No one denies that Patrick Dorismond was anything except saying, no, I don't want to get involved in selling drugs.

MATALIN: OK, we're not going to page by page, Congressman. Come on.

(Crossfire, CNN Apr 7, 2000)

Nadler laid out very clearly what seems to have happened under Giuliani's leadership.  Initially, Giuliani took up the community policing policies introduced by the previous Democratic Mayor, but over time he abandoned those policies in favor of a "zero-tolerance" approach--resulting in a massive spike in arrests. 

The Violence of Zero-Tolerance

In the days leading up to September 11, 2001, the Rudy Giuliani campaign collapsed in a perfect storm of allegations against the mayor:  police brutality, marital infidelity, cruelty to his own family members.  In the end, he pulled out of his Senate bid against Hillary Clinton, blaming a bout with prostate cancer as the culprit.  The man who built a career out of taking on the mob and arresting squeegee men on street corners was brought down by a common affliction easily cured by out-patient treatment. 

But six years later, his cancer seems only to have made him stronger--and more adept at building a strong wall of patriotic myth to shield him from reliving the controversies over police violence and abuse of power that plagued him in the past. 

But to quote Bob Beckel, even a "martian" can see that the campaign image of Giuliani as a hero standing on the smoldering rubble of the World Trade Center is a calculated political strategy designed to mask the mayor's actual past--a past which puts him at the center of a cloud of violence and one of the most troubling and deadly chapters in the history of America's urban centers.

(cross posted from Frameshop)