By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The net effect of this rhetoric has been to keep the heat off Giuliani, even as critics clamor to put it back on. As Times columnist Clyde Haberman told NY1, "The mayor has to take some responsibility in this whole general malaise." Jesse Jackson ratcheted up the charge at City Hall the next day, saying, "There is a tremendous burden upon Mr. Giuliani . . . for having helped set a climate that seems to glorify police misbehavior."
While Giuliani continues to duck the issue and test the waters for his Senate race, three Diallo angles beg for press attention: the mayor's botched PR in the wake of the shooting, his lack of empathy for outraged blacks, and his manipulation of the flow of information on related issues.
Newsday touched on the PR issue in a February 6 story predicting trouble for Giuliani, because he failed to meet with community leaders the day after the shooting. On February 10, Newsday's Leonard Levitt and Robert Polner reported that Safir was attending a law enforcement conference in Los Angeles while the Diallo debate raged in New York.
Some reporters feel (but have not reported) the mayor is stonewalling on the Diallo case, refusing to acknowledge a systemwide disorder. Even as he tells the press, "We have to wait until we see the facts," he and Safir have proposed a series of minuscule policy changes, such as retraining SCU officers and eliminating the rule that allows officers 48 hours of silence after an incident. In a more aggressive move, they launched the practice of seizing the cars of drunk drivers, as if to say, I'll tell you what's constitutional.
The main reason the mayor can't talk about Diallo is that he can't talk to black people, period. In a January 26 Voice story called "Rudy's Milky Way," Barrett found that most of the city's black leaders believe the mayor either doesn't know or doesn't care about the problems of black New Yorkers. While many of Giuliani's policies impact negatively on blacks, Barrett wrote, the Times "has yet to examine Giuliani's anti-black underside in any comprehensive or ongoing fashion."
Perhaps the Times will be a little more forceful on the race issue, post-Diallo. On February 11, the day after Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Fields called a press conference criticizing the mayor, the Times ran a front-page story by Dan Barry, suggesting the mayor was flubbing the Diallo incident because of his "failure to cultivate a trusting relationship with most of the city's black leaders."
The next day, a Times editorial gently criticized the mayor's reaction to Diallo, but never used the "race" word directly. Last Sunday, a Week in Review piece on police brutality trotted around the targeting of blacks and Latinos, but used the word "racist" only once and seemed to suggest that racial profiling only bothers minorities and civil libertarians.
Jim Dwyer of the Daily News finds this troubling. He says that while race "was used to explain too much in the past, now it's not being used to explain anything." Why? It's an era when some journalists believe that to be fair, they must be color-blind. But Dwyer says that kind of thinking is a delusion, "when only blacks and Latinos are stopped and frisked and when only blacks and Latinos are shot by cops."
The final missing story involves the mayor's tight control of information about the SCU. This is an administration that loves to release good news, usually packaged in the form of statistics and usually trumpeting its success at lowering the crime rate.
But Giuliani's police department is low on bad-news stats. For example, at a news conference last week, reporters asked for a racial breakdown of the 400 or so cops in the SCU, which is believed to be 90 percent white. Safir replied he did not have the numbers. "It's a volunteer organization," he said. "We have not taken a census."
Just last fall, Safir was spouting stats on the SCU to the Daily News's Alice McQuillan, who wrote a glowing story from the backseat of a cop car ("High-Powered Cops Target Guns," October 11). She reported that the SCU officers do their job "remarkably well" and sustain a very low number of civilian complaints just 41 for all 18,000 frisks in 1997.
Indeed, Safir was feeling so proud of his white boys, he told McQuillan, "I wish I could bottle their enthusiasm and make everyone take a drink of it."