From the Revolutionary Communist Party, New York Branch
Giuliani's Quality of Life: Police Brutality, Murder and Repression
Revolutionary Worker #978, October 18, 1998
This article is the first in a series examining Giulianism. This week, as we head into the October 22nd National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, we will focus on Giulianism as an expression of the systematic epidemic of police brutality. Future articles will examine other aspects of the Giuliani program.
The Quality of Life
Giuliani, it is said, has taken "a decaying, cold and terrifying" New York and single-handedly "turned the city around," rescuing it from crime and chaos, restoring the "quality of life." This model is being projected for cities around the U.S. In recent months Giuliani has himself begun to be put forward as a national political figure, speaking from Florida to Iowa about his "achievements." "Giulianism" is spreading. It is a doctrine for urban stability in 1990s America--a doctrine of extreme repression and police-ification of every aspect of urban life. What Giuliani is saying and doing is not totally new. Elements of his program were part of the "politics of cruelty" before he came to office--attacks on homeless people, cutbacks in social services, police brutality, etc. But Giuliani has taken this all to a whole new level and wrapped it in a political and ideological package.
Giuliani's holy words are "Quality of Life." They are invoked to threaten and bully people, especially with massive police force. The "quality" being talked about is an atmosphere of strict obedience and lock-step compliance with authority. "Quality of Life" assaults have especially targeted Black and Latino youth--sometimes in the name of targeting crime, or drugs, or gangs, or truancy. Giuliani has also targeted homeless people, welfare mothers, cab drivers, vendors, student protesters, jaywalkers, people who take up more than one seat on the subway and those who fly kites.
Each assault in the "quality of life" campaign has combined stepped-up police-ification with attempts to mobilize mass scapegoating of some section of the people for how messed up society is. This plays on and unleashes backward racist sentiments among the people. The "Quality of Life" campaign emphasizes self-first, and a view that compassion for others is an infringement on one's personal well-being. According to Giuliani, the poor are to blame for their own problems and are undeserving of sympathy or help.
Giuliani's "quality of life" campaign want to make the streets "hassle-free" by having the poor become "invisible"--swept off the streets, confined to certain areas of the city and locked up. Meanwhile Giuliani's "quality of life" most certainly doesn't extend to poor people--as health care, welfare, and drug rehabilitation programs are being cut.
Sometimes people view police brutality as the acts of a few individuals overstepping the bounds of law enforcement. But when you look at the program described here, it becomes clear that this can only be put into practice through unleashing and giving free rein to the most vicious police brutality and repression. Police brutality, even murder, is vital and integral to the program.
Added to this program is the criminalizing of dissent--from the massive number of cops deployed at demonstrations, to the banning of press conferences on the steps of City Hall, to the hidden cameras monitoring activist CUNY students. The mayor and police are moving forcefully to try to silence the resistance that is arising and manifesting itself.
These three elements of the Giuliani program of stepped-up police-ification, scapegoating of targeted sections of the people, and criminalizing dissent--combine to give life in New York today a distinctly racist and fascist quality.
A young white college student is on his first visit to New York. After walking around Manhattan a bit, his host notices that he is glancing around nervously. Unaware of any problem, the host asks if something is wrong. "You sure have a lot of cops here!" replies the youth. He's right. New York is a city where cops are everywhere and where their authority to do anything, from disrespecting people to murdering them, is virtually always backed up by the Mayor, and can only be questioned by the people at significant personal risk.
In 1993 there were just over 31,000 cops in New York City. Today--through a combination of hiring and merging the housing and transit police--there are more than 38,000 cops in the NYPD. This is a police force the size of an army. Cops mass at corners in mid-town, intimidating potential jaywalkers; they swarm through oppressed neighborhoods, searching, harassing, intimidating thousands, handing out hundreds of summonses for things like "loitering" and "obstructing the sidewalk." The implications are now much serious than the annoyance of paying a fine. Giuliani has ruled that people charged with violations must be booked at a police station--photographed and fingerprinted. Orders are for no one to be released until cops have run a full check.
Surveillance cameras are everywhere. They are in housing projects, at traffic intersections, and on subway platforms, with plans constantly announced to add more. There are undercover quality-of-life police squads who ride the subways, busting people for fare skipping or even for placing their bags on the seat next to them. The police sweep down on the homes of "suspected drug dealers" and people they mistakenly think are dealing. A simple tip from a snitch can send cops to knock down the door and toss in a stun grenade. One family in Brooklyn had cops bust in and handcuff the entire family--including a mentally retarded teenager who was showering. They let her cover up with a robe but refused to give her a sanitary napkin, though she was clearly menstruating. In the end they left and told the super to fix the door--no apologies. From Yankee Stadium where cops take the field as the game ends to the city's public schools where the NYPD is now in charge of school security, the NYPD is omnipresent.
Police in New York have committed a string of horrendous crimes against the people, especially Black and Latino youth. They murdered Anthony Baez for the "crime" of playing football. They horribly tortured Abner Louima for no reason at all. In August they fired 17 shots at a 15-year-old Black youth holding a water gun, hitting him with six. With the boy in the hospital in critical condition, the Mayor denounced his parents for letting him out of the house late at night. A few months earlier, an off-duty cop shot an unarmed homeless man point blank. His crime? He had tried to wash the cop's windshield. The Mayor declared that the homeless man's presence created a dangerous situation and was responsible for what happened. Then there are the many incidents of cops shooting suspects dead, sometimes in the chest, sometimes in the back when cops say they were threatened by a knife, a toy gun, an unloaded gun or no gun at all. In the mass of these cases, the Mayor jumps to the defense of the police, cautions people not to jump to conclusions, that they should give police the benefit of the doubt, and then, many times slanders the victims for good measure.
The Mayor has unleashed the police against organized political opposition. The city besieged the Million Youth March in Harlem, with one cop for every two participants, and launched a military-style attack on the stage at the end of the rally. They staged an armed attack on the home of one of the MYM organizers. They swept down in the hundreds on the homes of members, associates and leaders of the Almighty Latin King & Queen Nation, a youth organization that is known for its efforts to break with petty street crime, who have been active in the fight against police brutality in New York. The city openly flouts efforts of the media, even backed by court orders, to get access to information, including records of police brutality. Giuliani has tried to ban demonstrations from the steps of City Hall and surrounded it with concrete barriers. He is having a $5 million bunker built in the World Trade Center so he can continue to rule in the event of any future "emergency situation."
Creating a "More Civil" Society
If you live in New York you get pretty used to talk of "order," "law," "disorder," and "private property rights" coming from City Hall. Here are a few bites from a major speech by Giuliani in February 1998 on "New Strategies to Improve the City's Quality of Life and Create a More Civil Society":
"We didn't become the city most people want to live in and visit by encouraging an atmosphere of disorder..."
"Small disorders lead to larger ones, and perhaps even to crime."
"There is a continuum of disorder."
"Beginning with Roman law up through English common law to modern jurisprudence, much of the development of humanism has centered on a respect for Property Rights."
"...inconsiderate behavior yields disorder.."
Some people simply say that Giuliani is crazy--a deeply disturbed individual. And while it can reasonably be said that there is a madness to his method, there is also a method to his madness. And he's not shy about explaining it. It's called the "Broken Windows" theory, and it's based on the dictum, "Take care of the little things and the big things will take care of themselves." This is the central premise of Giuliani's police-ification model:
"If a factory or office window is broken, passers-by observing it will conclude that no one cares or no one is in charge. In time, a few will begin throwing rocks to break more windows. Soon, all the windows will be broken, and now passers-by will think that not only is no one in charge of the building, no one is in charge of the street on which it faces... so more and more citizens will abandon the street to those they assume prowl it. Small disorders lead to larger ones, and perhaps even to crime."
Here are two examples from the same speech showing how this is applied in practice and what it means for real people in the real world:
"Just last week police officers noticed a man who was acting suspiciously. After keeping a close watch on the man for a time, the officers caught the man recklessly jaywalking..."
The man was arrested and found to be a possible suspect in some robberies.
"...We might never have gotten this dangerous man off the streets if we hadn't caught him committing a lesser offense."
Next, a recent "quality of life" police sweep conducted in Manhattan is discussed, in which: "...they uncovered a variety of serious offenses. In this sweep, police made four felony arrests [in addition to 60 random arrests - ed.] for grand larceny, drug possession, assault, and promoting gambling...they found violations and crimes including disorderly conduct, open container possession, littering, trespassing, loitering for prostitution, public urination, possession of a controlled substance, loitering for drugs, unlicensed possession of a knife, obstructing sidewalk, gambling, and a wide range of traffic, parking, and environmental control violations."
In this incident, where you can just picture people hanging out on the front stoop, listening to music, they handed out over 500 summonses and arrested 66 people. Of the felony arrests two were "victimless" crimes. Here is how the Mayor sums it up:
"The fact is if you concentrate on the little things, and send a clear message that this city cares about maintaining a sense of law and order...then the city as a whole will begin to become safer. The very reason laws exist in the first place is so that people's rights can be protected and that includes the right not to be disturbed, agitated and abused by others."
But the question must be asked: "Safer for who, and whose rights?" These policies play themselves out differently in poor and oppressed neighborhoods from more middle-class and white ones. And giving police the "right" to brutalize and terrorize people means the people have no rights at all.
Just before his first mayoral election, Rudy Giuliani spoke before a rally of 10,000 armed cops on the steps of City Hall who screamed racist epithets and held signs depicting the (then in office) Black mayor David Dinkins as, among other things, a "washroom attendant." After the rally broke up, there were several instances of marauding drunk pigs attacking oppressed youth in the rally area and on the subway. More recently, a white enclave in the borough of Queens became known for its annual Labor Day parade in which each year a different ethnic group was mocked. The current atmosphere contributed to this year's parade with a float featuring city policemen and others in black-face and Afro wigs, with a sign reading "Black to the Future," mocking the dragging death of a Black man in Jasper, Texas. Apparently in both these cases the people involved find the very presence of Black, Latinos or immigrants to be "disturbing"--they are "agitated" when youth play rap music, they feel "abused" if non-white people refuse to put up with their racist bullshit.
But many ghettos and barrios are repeatedly (or in some cases permanently) placed in a state of siege, in which people are forbidden to walk down the street without showing police ID, in which guns are pulled on innocent people, in which beatings and torture are widely administered, especially to the youth. In a NY Times article, the director of a major social service agency in Washington Heights described how this went down in one case: "They froze the block. No one could come in or out. There were loads of police everywhere with their guns drawn. They took photographs of everybody in the area, innocent or guilty, and then the undercover officer came to identify the drug dealers they were looking for." A cook from Harlem describes a similar scene in his area in which cops ordered him to kneel in the street, pistol-whipped him, then, "as I was bleeding like a slaughtered hog, they...took my pants down on the street and strip-searched me." This is what all the talk about freedom and order means for the basic people.
An Evil Bargain (or Be Careful What You Wish For)
Here's a story: In the late 1980s some New York comrades had a guest from out of town. This was someone who had serious doubts of the possibility of different nationalities ever getting past the societal divisions that sometimes keep us apart. At the end of a Manhattan walkabout they found themselves in Greenwich Village and were drawn to the sounds of music from nearby Washington Square Park. They entered the park and there, at 11 o'clock on a cold November night, was a crowd of several hundred people made up of all the beautiful races and nationalities this city has to offer, huddled together in the dark, arms around each other for warmth, singing "Lean On Me." The visitor said: "Oh. Now I see."
But you won't often see that scene repeated in New York any more. And you won't experience the thrill of sharing New Years with the people of Chinatown since their long beloved celebration with fireworks has been designated a "Quality of Life" crime. And you'll see less and less of the beautiful street art and murals that have been brought forward by the oppressed people since Giuliani has declared: "A city with increasing amount of graffiti is a city in which the rights of its people are being disrespected. And conversely, a city with decreasing amounts of graffiti is a city in which the rights of people are being respected."
Go to Washington Square Park these days and you'll find batteries of surveillance cameras, curfews, and constant roving police patrols, especially harassing the many Black youth who come from all over to gather there as part of a whole youth scene.
New York is a complex city with a large, generally progressive middle class from all over the world that can't always be appealed to in the most base or narrow-minded terms. But people from the middle classes (as well as many basic people) have expressed real concerns about crime and other city problems. In the tradition of the late Chilean dictator Pinochet, who kept the streets of Santiago clean and tidy while rounding up and murdering tens of thousands of the basic people in the catacombs below the sports arena, Giuliani offers to wave the "quality of life" magic wand and make these problems "disappear." Just give up a few rights and you can live in comfort and peace, with all the less "pleasant" realities out of sight.
Of course, Giuliani does not offer an end to poverty or homelessness. He offers only to hide it...for a price.
And actually, the sacrifices from the middle class are not always that small either. While things don't always take the same violent forms as in the ghetto, NYC is now a place in which large numbers of even middle class people are swept up for petty offenses like selling art in the streets (one artist has been busted 15 times for this) or violating park curfews, and more than a few have been brutalized. The city's policy is increasingly to arrest people rather than just issue summonses. Things have reached a point that the NY Times, a paper whose readership is heavily middle class, ran a major article to walk their readership through the whole process of getting busted, sort of a "how-to" guide for the previously uninitiated. This experience, combined with sharp exposure of a number of atrocities against the basic people, has enabled more and more sections of the middle class to come to question Giuliani's whole program.
"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it."
Rudy Giuliani, March 16, 1994
In the period between 1992 and 1996 the New York City police murdered 187 people. In the short time since the infamous torture of Abner Louima in August 1997, 15 more have been killed.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)