Raging Bull

Giuliani's Knee-Jerk Cop Defense Is as Incendiary as It Is Inaccurate

Disturbed that one of the cops had emptied his 16-shot Glock, the grand jury concluded that "the goals of the NYPD with respect to controlling the number of shots fired" in situations like this had "not been achieved." It was also upset that there was "no formal criteria or testing" for assignment to the street crime unit. Citing the NYPD director of training, who said that precinct commanders look for "characteristics like arrest activity, a willingness to be proactive, somebody that is assertive," the grand jury faulted the department for not giving all the officers in the unit specialized training.

The latest CCRB report, covering January to June 1998, found a 58 percent increase in police beatings compared with the first six months of 1997, as well as a 27 percent hike in "drag/pull" allegations and 39 percent jump in pepper-spray incidents. Even the Giuliani-appointed CCRB concluded that the recent rise was "troubling."

When eight congressmen, led by the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, held a public hearing on police brutality here, the mayor denounced it as a "political rally" though it was deliberately held after his reelection. The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney testified, and a thousand people attended, but Giuliani ignored Conyers's public appeal to "please, Mr. Mayor, give me a minute or two." After one speaker went off on a momentary rant about Jews, the mayor quickly used the incident to denounce Conyers et al. for "not standing up to bigotry."

When 16-year-old Michael Jones was fired at 17 times by cops, one of whom also emptied a Glock, the mayor repeatedly assailed his mother while Jones lay in a hospital with six bullet wounds. Blaming the shooting on the fact that Jones was riding his bike armed with an ominous-looking toy gun, Giuliani said: "Adult supervision would have prevented the gun. It would also have prevented being out at 2:30 in the morning for whatever purpose, and I don't think the purpose for which he was out was a salutary one." There was no evidence that Jones, who survived, was involved in any criminal activity.

A New York Civil Liberties Union review of Police Commissioner Howard Safir's handling of CCRB complaints found that the mayor's constant companion had "in effect nullified" 66 percent of the tiny number "substantiated" by the agency. CCRB investigations confirmed only 5 percent of complaints, passing them on to Safir for disciplinary action. He did nothing on more than two-thirds of the cases. When Safir did act, 60 percent of the time he imposed "the most lenient disciplinary measures"— a verbal warning or forfeiture of up to 10 vacation days.

The irony is that Safir himself has three appointees on the CCRB and, as the agency observed in its own report, "panels of the Board almost always substantiate a case with the concurrence of a police commissioner designee."

Giuliani dissed a 1996 Amnesty International report that reviewed 90 police brutality cases as "exaggerated," saying the organization had "a viewpoint." He stonewalled a request from Public Advocate Mark Green to examine the department's handling of substantiated CCRB complaints, saying that Green's "motivations are political," and tying up Green for two years in still ongoing appeals that have already lost before five judges. The mayor also threw out the "political" defense at comptrollers Alan Hevesi and Carl McCall when they tried to audit the NYPD, forcing McCall to sue and stalling Hevesi for three years.

When a Bronx judge acquitted Francis Livoti of the choke-hold death of Anthony Baez, Giuliani called the verdict "a careful, well-thought-out, legally reasoned opinion." Livoti was later convicted in federal court. When a cop with seven civilian complaints in four years, three of which had been substantiated by the CCRB and involved excessive force, shot a squeegee at point-blank range last year, the mayor saw it as "an ambiguous situation" with facts that "argue for the police officer" as well as for the homeless man who lost his spleen.

The facts that argued for the cop were the victim's half a dozen minor drug-possession convictions over the prior decade, prompting the mayor to liken the shooting to one of a low-level drug dealer. "It doesn't mean we're going to stop enforcing the law against drug dealers," said Giuliani, pledging that his celebrated war against squeegees would continue.

The mayor opposes residency laws for city cops. His corrections department strip-searched all 53,000 misdemeanor arrestees for 10 months in 1996 and 1997, until stopped by a lawsuit. Court claims against the city for cop misconduct rose 74 percent between 1993 and 1997. Giuliani's first four budgets— including the one issued three months before the Louima incident— cut funding for the CCRB. Had the cuts not been restored by the city council, he would have cumulatively removed $2.4 million from a $5.2 million agency.

Shortly after the Louima incident, Giuliani added $1.5 million to CCRB's budget, only to call for a $588,000 cut a week after his reelection.

The mayor's most insidious defense of the police is to float the notion that those who criticize cops in incidents like Diallo are "cop bashers" who evince a form of "prejudice" no different than racism and anti-Semitism. Nothing disturbs the NYCLU's Norman Siegel more: "To equate hundreds of years of oppression based on immutable racial traits with criticism of the tactics and practices of individual police officers," he says, "is to show how disconnected Rudy Giuliani is to this issue."

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