Looking back, it can seem head-scratching that “America’s Mayor” was twice voted in charge of a liberal city in the ’90s: Rudy Giuliani, Republican mayor and one-time frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 who this year supports presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
What to expect from the man who was given such credit for leading New York City firmly through 9/11? These days, it’s rehashes of that period of resolution and more pitiful fare such as what we witnessed this week.
Giuliani started off an appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation” by expressing “deep sympathy” for the black men killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and the five police officers killed in Dallas, quickly followed by more aggressive rhetoric.
He said on Sunday that black children are less endangered by police than by “other black kids.” For good measure he threw in an admonition for black parents to teach their children to be “respectful” to police, despite recent examples of police shootings where respectful behavior didn’t appear to help. And he called Black Lives Matter, a movement devoted to demonstrating the structural racism that black and brown Americans struggle against in 2016, “inherently racist.” Giuliani doubled down on those comments Monday on “Fox and Friends,” adding that he’s saved more black lives than the Black Lives Matter movement.
The comments were rightly and widely criticized. But more than being misguided, they represent an out-of-date point of view.
Giuliani is a remnant of a different world, former mayor of a city polarized by cases like the brutalizing of Abner Louima and the police shooting of Amadou Diallo — a city riven by racial disparities that the mayor did little to ease. It is a mindset formed when the city regularly endured more than 1,000 homicides a year, which contributed to the election of a law-and-order candidate like Giuliani.
Those homicide numbers have plummeted — beginning before and throughout Giuliani’s tenure, but also after. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Bill Bratton announced half-year crime numbers for 2016. Though crime has ticked up in the Bronx and other sections, serious crimes citywide are at historic lows in the CompStat era despite the end of stop-and-frisk, the aggressive police tactic favored by Giuliani. And even the Bronx’s 40th Precinct, where homicides have spiked compared to last year, is generally safer than years past: 130 homicides in the five-year period from 1994-1998, vs. 57 in the five years to the end of 2015.
The former mayor rightly decries gun violence and violence against police, but finds it impossible to understand the equally obvious truth that police reforms are necessary and that the deaths of minority men and women at the hands of police are part of a systemic issue that must be addressed. In an age of live-streaming, body cameras, and cell-phone recordings, this truth has become impossible to ignore.
Not making America safe again
We live in a safer city than the one Giuliani presided over, and we have the opportunity to make it a fairer one. A broader consensus exists today than during the ’90s to make it happen, due to increased safety and the continued attention of activists pushing issues of criminal justice reform to the fore.
Unfortunately, Giuliani’s backward-looking is echoed on the national stage by Donald Trump, who Giuliani supports and who gave a dog-whistling speech on Monday in Virginia, pivoting quickly from being “disturbed by the images we saw” of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, to the “catastrophe of crime in our inner cities,” according to his prepared remarks.
This despite multiple studies that do not find a link between high-crime areas and a high numbers of civilians killed by police.
Yet the facts are not the purpose here — arguments are ancillary to a vision of the past to which Giuliani and Trump are happy to return. Stuck in those high-crime days, they don’t understand the ways in which leaders can and should make America “safe again” — by policing focused on serious crime, not quality-of-life offenses; stricter gun laws, not looser ones; and funding for social services and community development, not large-scale disparagement.
Those are policies more suited for a contemporary America and the values of NYC.
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