The Racist Factor

Exploiting Politics and Hysteria Over the Park Sex Attacks

"Wanted" posters masquerading as banner headlines in last Thursday's Post And Daily News

Last Wednesday afternoon, as Reverend Al Sharpton prepared to introduce reporters to two new victims of the "wild out" in Central Park, Bill O'Reilly, the alarmist host of the trash-tv talk show The O'Reilly Factor on the Fox News Channel, simultaneously began taping an interview about the incident for broadcast that evening. That interview would come to symbolize the exploitation of the hysteria and racial politics surrounding the alleged sex attacks.

It would not have mattered to O'Reilly that Sharpton—whom he's repeatedly criticized for not speaking out about crimes committed by African Americans and Latinos—had rallied to the side of Josina Lawrence and Ashanna Cover, two New Jersey college students, both 21 and black, who claimed that attackers surrounded them, stripped off their blouses, and put their hands in their shorts. O'Reilly launched into another vicious attack on the favorite whipping boy of the extremist right, suggesting that the civil rights activist, who brought to the federal government's attention alleged abuses of blacks and Latinos by the NYPD in the wake of the Amadou Diallo shooting, was largely responsible for unleashing the assailants who moved about the park in, as one news report put it, "a wild, roving pack"—stripping, fondling, and robbing scores of girls and women.

It was as if O'Reilly had sensed that Sharpton would align himself only with those victims who charged that cops rebuffed them when they asked for help. At Sharpton's news conference, Lawrence and Cover said they planned to sue the city for $5 million each because police had failed to protect them. Sharpton, O'Reilly would imply, tied cops' hands.

"In the 'Impact' segment tonight," O'Reilly intoned in his set-up piece, "the tragedy of Amadou Diallo is now being compounded over and over. As I told you a few months ago, the pressure brought by Al Sharpton and others in the aftermath of the killing of Mr. Diallo has resulted in a less aggressive police force here in New York City, and other cities, like Los Angeles, and Louisville, Kentucky, [that] have similar problems. Now, you may have seen this terrible tape of dozens of thugs sexually assaulting young women in Central Park in broad daylight. Some of the victims say they pleaded with police to help, and some officers refused to do anything. NYPD officials deny it, but the rise in violent crime in the city after the Diallo shooting and the kind of terrible display in Central Park point to a far less aggressive police department. And where is Al Sharpton? Isn't he outraged over all this?"

O'Reilly's guest that evening was Eli Silverman, a professor of political science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who was hawking his book NYPD Battles Crime: Innovative Strategies in Policing. But for the most part, O'Reilly, whose phony "objectivity" highlights the unfair and unbalanced reporting at Fox, tried to keep the subject on Sharpton.

"You know what . . . you know what angers me?" fumed O'Reilly. "You have a demagogue like Al Sharpton who almost single-handedly, with the help of some Hollywood people like Susan Sarandon and other high-profile people—you have this man coming out selectively, in selective cases—and I feel bad for Amadou Diallo's family, believe me—putting pressure on the whole police department, and destroying aggressive policing in the city. And we see what is happening now."

Silverman initially refused to jump on O'Reilly's anti-Sharpton bandwagon, contending instead that there is a decline in morale among cops because "their pay is abysmally low." O'Reilly went on to pander to white New Yorkers' fears that crime may be on the rise once again in the city Rudy Giuliani had rescued from members of a suspect class. "[I]sn't it interesting that right after the Diallo situation, violent crime starts to rise?" he asked. "Murder's up 22 percent, the cabbies are getting knocked off like crazy, and this Central Park thing, in my opinion, never would have happened before the Amadou Diallo situation becaue most of the men involved in sexually assaulting these women in Central Park, in broad daylight, are minorities. They are minorities. And the cops surrounding the park knew something was going on, yet failed to stop it. Explain that to me."

To Silverman's credit, he corrected O'Reilly's trumped-up crime statistics, pointing out that homicides have gone up only "7 percent this [year] compared to the same [time] last year." O'Reilly's race-baiting quickly gave way to his yearning for the return of the Street Crimes Unit, the rogue undercover force to which the four acquitted white cops who blew Diallo away in a barrage of 41 bullets were assigned. "[F]or people who don't live in New York, what they had was a unit called the Street Crimes Unit, which were plainclothes guys who would go out and confront suspicious people in the streets, and pat them down for weapons. . . ." he said. "That's gone. That's gone."

"Right," Silverman acknowledged.

"So the aggressive policing, which some people call racial profiling, all right, is over," lamented O'Reilly. "Now, how long did it take for the thugs to figure out that the streets are now a lot safer for them? What? About 15 minutes?"

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