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:
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 16, 1999
Research: Coco McPherson, Soo-Min Oh, and Ron Zapata