In the new millennium, New Yorkers may look back on this moment as Indian summer, July 1914-the last golden season before darkness and death. We are at a potential tipping point in our attitudes toward law and order, and it looks as if the balance will be upset.
The proximate cause of our vulnerability is the violence and misconduct of a dozen cops. The good news about Officer Justin Volpe, if the testimony against him holds up, is that he is not a racist. Plain old sadism explains his actions, along with a dash of self-hating, closeted gayness. (Larry Kramer, leave Abe Lincoln alone, and hail the new postulant.) The cops who are now accusing Mr. Volpe waited until the last act to sing. The shooters of Amadou Diallo did not have evil intent, but they also didn’t have much competence. To some degree these problems are endemic to policing. Power attracts the brutal; shared danger encourages silence, and the blunders of armed men have more serious consequences than the mistakes of clerks.
There are other factors at work. The Mayor’s personality has not been of use to him. We elected a centurion, but we also needed an empath. (No wonder he’s running for Senate; it will be an easier job.) Police Commissioner Howard Safir did his bit by swelling the Street Crimes Unit with the undertrained, and by hobnobbing with the stars of Hollywood.
But the main reason the Louima and Diallo cases, rocking and rolling through the news cycles like one-two punches, threaten not just their perpetrators or even a few politicians, but the city’s fabric, is the worthlessness of white liberals. Liberals now identify “Giuliani Time,” as Abner Louima’s lawyers did, not with 1,500 fewer homicides per year, but with one beating and one killing. They have forgotten Dinkins Time. Their ignorance will help bring Dinkins Time back.
White liberals elected Rudolph Giuliani the first time he won. For all the Spenglerian rhetoric of the conservative press and the Giuliani campaign, his margin of victory in 1993 was tiny-as small as his margin of loss four years earlier. Blacks and white ethnics stayed in their separate political bantustans in both elections. What switched was a handful of white liberals, and what switched them was their sense that the city had become dangerous for them. The Crown Heights pogrom got the big headlines, but its victims were outer-borough theists. The poster boy for white liberal anxieties was Larry Hogue, the violent, demented bum who marauded through the Upper West Side, smashing car windows, menacing those who complained about him and pushing a girl in front of a bus. Lemerick Nelson, like Slobodan Milosevic, only killed abroad; Larry Hogue struck home. He and a dozen lesser symptoms of early 90’s urban life festering on the liberals’ home turf-squeegeemen, panhandlers, corner drug dealers, sidewalk souks, packs of loping, sullen “youths”-persuaded enough of them to do the unthinkable and vote for a Republican.
In 1997, the political leakage to Mr. Giuliani became a flood, and why not? He had delivered. You had to be a moron not to see it. Now, only two years later, all is in doubt. Liberals are morons after all.
They soothe themselves with trendology. Crime is down everywhere, so maybe New York’s crime-fighting methods are irrelevant and could be reversed without danger. They ignore the impact that New York’s plunging crime rate has on the national statistics, or the example its methods have given police forces elsewhere.
They revert to default preoccupations, which is not so bad (who wants to think about crime all the time?) and default habits, which (given their habits) is terrible. They yearn to express solidarity with blacks, and they express their unconscious contempt for black character and intelligence by heeding the most demagogic black spokesmen. Did any of the liberals who trooped to 1 Police Plaza to take stage directions from the Rev. Al Sharpton reflect that more people of color were killed at his last big demonstration, at Freddy’s Fashion Mart in Harlem, than in the shooting of Amadou Diallo? But they turned out, anyway. And once Mr. Sharpton took the Diallo case on the road, touring Diallo’s mother like a Guinean Mother Courage, Senator Bill Bradley took up the theme himself, to show what a superior understanding of the souls of black folk he has (if playing with Walt Frazier was not demonstration enough).
Who will call liberals to their senses? The Mayor lacks the rhetorical skills, and he is drawn, by ambition and term limits, out of the arena. Comptroller Alan Hevesi is a hack sufficiently pliant to have kept a good policy in place, so long as no one criticized it; in the face of controversy, he will fold. Public Advocate Mark Green is Ruth Messinger with a better wardrobe. Representative Floyd Flake has been auditioning to be the voice of reason, but he hailed Al Sharpton’s leadership in the Diallo case-evidently the price of his credibility as a black Democratic candidate. Enjoy your new friends, Reverend.
The cops, whose rogues helped get us into this mess, will watch the politicians watch the liberals, and draw the appropriate conclusions. Risk life, limb and a cool dark nook out of the limelight by making that extra search, that extra arrest? No way. “Broken windows policing” had to overcome institutional inertia. (The police, too, are a bureaucracy.) Without a spur from the top, cops will retreat to their patrol cars and their 911 calls, and let the civilians cope.
Soon, the liberals will find their neighborhoods fraying again, first at the edges, then at their doorsteps. Few of them will actually die. The spike in homicides will occur in poorer precincts, where brown and black people live. White liberals won’t hold any demonstrations about it.
New Yorkers don’t deserve their peace and freedom-peace and quiet, freedom from fear. The day after a strong man hands it to them, they want to give it away. They won’t be burdened with it much longer.