He stood in the closetlike vestibule of his Soundview home, reaching for the keys in his pocket, his eyes filled with terror at the four barking white faces just feet from him with guns as large as history. This newly arrived African, who chose America, would be greeted by a welcome wagon of 9mm bullets in the darkness of the night. Every mother in New York descended from a slave could see her son, every man himself.
The mayor suspended judgment. He asked for patience. A two-story house became a pockmarked memorial visited by thousands and yet the mayor, who's never missed a water main break, stayed away from the 41 holes in the heart of his city.
Within 14 hours of Amadou Diallo's death, Rudy Giuliani left town for Pennsylvania to regale a banquet room of white Republicans with the story of how he'd tamed New York. His shadow, the same police commissioner who'd canceled a trip to a national police conference to be at his side the week before the 1997 election, flew almost as quickly to California for a five-day parley, and the mayor said the trip was okay. "It wouldn't make sense to interrupt him," Giuliani explained as angry crowds gathered near his fenced-off City Hall, "unless there was an actual crisis going on, which there isn't."
The mayor met with a delegation of African leaders and when one told the press that he had expressed sorrow over this "regrettable mistake," his press secretary rushed to correct the diplomat, insisting he'd never called it a mistake, only a "tragedy." Then he manufactured body-count charts he thought could answer a cry no number could silence and, pointer in hand, delivered a lecture on NYPD restraint.
He had talked for years about how well he understood police officers. He'd told us that four of his uncles were cops. At the funerals of policemen and firemen, he had repeatedly spoken of them and their families as the special people of New York, the best of our time. Tin-eared now, he could not hear Diallo or his family. He could not feel the pain of so many of the people of his city because, in truth, these were not his people.
Black men died at the hands of New York police long before Rudy Giuliani took office. They will continue to die if he moves on to become Senator Cop. But the mayor who has made himself synonymous with the NYPD cannot be surprised if a city that credits him, at his own insistence, for the department's anti-crime success also blames him for its savage excess. He cannot evade a share of responsibility for police aggression when it kills the gentle if he tours the land seeking plaudits when it supposedly stops criminals in their tracks.
Beginning with his demagogic 1992 appearance at a police riot near City Hall to protest David Dinkins's creation of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), Giuliani has a record of contributing to a climate of brutality that now grips every community of color in New York:
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 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."
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.
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."
It is a disconnect of denial, a disconnect of convenience. The mayor is fond of attacking every criticism as political. But it is he who has positioned himself as New York's Mighty Whitey, playing to the national avatars of a party that long ago abandoned Lincoln. It is he who has justified the "benefit of the doubt" he gives cops by contending that "crime would not have gone down as much" if he "let police officers hang out there" and stayed neutral until all the facts about an incident are known.
It is he who, on his way to Washington, will leave this city bitterly partitioned, with blacks and whites blind to each other.
Research: Coco McPherson, Soo-Min Oh, and Ron Zapata
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