Giuliani’s New York had a blind spot for that recurrent disease of cowboy police forces–the superiority complex. by PIERRE TRISTAM After he was kicked, punched and sodomized with a broomstick by two of New York City’s “finest” at a Brooklyn police precinct in 1997, Abner Louima told a story.
As the officers terrorized him, he said, they chanted how it was “Giuliani time, not Dinkins time,” a reference to Rudolph Giuliani, then at the end of his first of two triumphalist terms as mayor, after the disastrous administration of David Dinkins.
Louima sued, and two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center he reached an $8.75 million settlement with the city and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
By then he had admitted that he made up the “Giuliani time” remark. But made up or not, the remark had to be invented. It summed up Giuliani’s faintly fascist regime of martial policing that had given New York the feel of a secure perimeter rather than a freewheeling city, so that even the New York Times called him the “Mussolini of Manhattan” in a headline a few months after his reelection, when, DiCaprio-style, he’d yelled “I am the king of the world” to television cameras. He kicked off a new round of Little Hitler jokes when he announced plans for a $15 million bombproof “emergency control center” on–where else, the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center.
By then the NYPD’s “stop & frisk” tactic had become an endemic and racist harassment tool–175,000 cases in a 15-month period about the time of the attack on Louima, with blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly targeted (Louima is a Haitian black).
There was the guy shot dead while arguing about a fender bender on a city bridge, the guy dragged out of his bedroom at gunpoint, the guy shot dead in the kitchen of the restaurant where he worked, all shot by cops, all part of 3,500 lesser-known Giuliani Time police misconduct cases–the ones that led to lawsuits, anyway–which, cumulatively, cost New York City taxpayers $177 million in settlements over eight years.
Giuliani’s New York, “where our life is secure and dignity is preserved,” in the words of an NYPD video, had a blind spot for that recurrent disease of cowboy police forces–the superiority complex. At Giuliani’s command, who truly thought himself Mayor of the World well before Time Magazine crowned him as such, the NYPD’s superiority complex was bound to be bloody. Giuliani’s metamorphosis after Sept. 11 was truly great, and as Newsweek put it recently, “Rudy Giuliani found his voice” that day. But for too many New Yorkers, it was eight years late.
None of this should be too relevant now except for city historians. Giuliani is out of power. He’s finally harmless. Yet it is too relevant for comfort, because it’s hard not to see close parallels between Giuliani and President Bush, two men who’ve been feeding off of each other’s blood-born popularity ever since that horrible day, which they continue to use and abuse to their political advantage with buzzard-like rapacity. There are disturbing parallels between Giuliani’s brown-shirt rule before Sept. 11 and Bush’s since, between Giuliani’s revanchist reign over New York and Bush’s avenging foreign policy, between Giuliani’s shoot-first mentality and Bush’s contempt for doubt, between the once-Mayor of the World and the would-be King of the World. New York City before Sept. 11 is the United States since then: Suspicious, arbitrary, discriminating, secretive, and policing above all, but mostly above the law.
What this means for the armed forces as they campaign and rampage through foreign lands for no better reason than because the president has a hunch that safety in Iowa or Flagler Beach lies in obliterating many thousand souls seven time zones away isn’t clear yet, if entirely unreassuring. What it has already meant for the country is very clear. Giuliani Time has yielded to Bush Time.
And for a crowning parallel, Bush has given the nation its own “emergency control center.” It is proportionally more expensive, more lumbering and more useless than the one Giuliani put on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center. Calling it the Department of Homeland Security even gives it that brown-shirt tint the Giuliani-Bush school of security designers are so fond of. After greeting its inception with a season of derision back in 1998, the press politely kept its ironists’ mouths shut when the original command center ended up at New York’s Fresh Kills dump, along with other remains from Ground Zero. Mouths are unfortunately still mostly shut about the new department and most other Bush-born crocks. It’s Bush Time, and it’s jamming.
PIERRE TRISTAM is a News-Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org