Rampage in Central Park May Signal Changing Times

One of the cheapest thrills of history or historical fiction is spying on the average unperceptive soul as his world falls apart: Chaliapin performing in St. Petersburg the night the Winter Palace is stormed; some honest German tending bar at his saloon in New York or Chicago on the eve of Prohibition; the bellicose aristo on the first page of War and Peace , asking if Genoa and Lucca are to become private fiefs of the Bonapartes. Spy on yourself, for we may well be there. The Puerto Rican Day Parade is not only the story of the year, it may be the story of the next 10 years, the moment people will point to when they want to divide golden then from dross now. It is appropriate-it is essential-to send it around the track one more time.

First, the minor point, which concerns Puerto Rican behavior and culture. These people want to have their own state, and they can’t even run a parade? Of course they can run a parade; Puerto Rican Day parades came off for years without wildings, and they will do so for years to come. Any large random group of men might produce such brutish behavior on its margins. (After all, Bill Clinton isn’t Puerto Rican.) But when an outbreak occurs, then both the sub-community and the larger community have to take measures.

We sit down, take names and hold people after class. Group pride, special pleading, “but we’re all so poor,” “you don’t like us”-none of this is relevant. Or at least none of it is relevant to a group that wants to amount to something. It does not even matter if it turns out that only half of the wilders were Puerto Rican. They were all empowered by the atmosphere of boozy, garbage-strewn carnival that has come to characterize the parade-what the society columnist Taki correctly assailed some years ago as a hoedown for slobs.

When the St. Patrick’s Day Parade was degenerating into a pukefest with the odd stabbing, the organizers and the Archdiocese of New York got their act together and straightened it out. The comments of Puerto Rican leaders deploring the group grope were appropriate, and just. What is sad about the larger civic culture is that the Puerto Rican leaders were held up for special approving comment, as if they had said something rare and strange. Only Adolph Giuliani is supposed to lecture us on behavior. People of color are expected to want to wallow like pigs. Fernando Ferrer did the right thing; we let him down by patting him on the back for it.

The major point is not minorities, but the police. Minorities come and go, in on the bus, out to the burbs. In any case, they mostly live somewhere else. The police are everywhere, because crime is potentially everywhere. How they act is always at the top of any city’s agenda. Not surprisingly, the major point has been much twisted in the parade’s aftermath. We have slipped into a late 60’s moment, Archie Bunker and George Wallace on one side saying, “We’ve got to get tough”; limousine liberals on the other saying, “No, we don’t”-or, “Gee, look at those videotapes of molested women, maybe we do,” or “Why are these choices so hard?” Do the cops need to be reined in, because they have been shooting innocent men like Amadou Diallo? Or are they so traumatized by the liberal bad rap that they let young bums fondle every passing breast, because the bums are the same color as Amadou Diallo? Are they racially profiling the people they kill, or the people they turn a blind eye to?

This is the wrong argument. The insight of broken-windows policing, developed by academics, road-tested in the New York subways, then put into practice during Mayor Giuliani’s first term, was that crime goes down when public space is permeated by the sense that somebody is in control, and that this is accomplished by attention to little things. That looked like tough-guy stuff when the broken-windows cops rounded up squeegee men, turnstile jumpers and public drunks. It does not look so tough when compared to the SWAT team approach to crime perfected by the Los Angeles Police Department and former police chief Darryl Gates. Are there suspected drugs in this suspect’s house? Send in the helicopters.

What seems to have happened in the last two and a half years is that Mr. Giuliani, the pioneer, slipped back into pre-broken-windows thinking. If this is true, then both the Diallo shooting and the Puerto Rican Day work slowdown are parts of the same pattern. Diallo was shot by a special unit, one whose duty it was to chase down specially bad criminals. (The need to do so was so imperative that the special units had been flooded with raw cops.) If you were not in a special unit, and something unusual, like a notoriously boisterous parade, is coming down, just show up and collect your paycheck. Did the change in police strategy coincide with the departure of Bill Bratton? Mr. Bratton seems to think so, since he has written op-ed pieces in The New York Times deploring both cop excesses and cop delinquency. I come not to praise Caesar, nor to bury him. Mr. Bratton was a showboat and a publicity hound, and the real work of reforming the department was done by the men under him. But he picked those men, and P.R. is part of the broken-windows process. You not only have to show that you’re in control, you have to tell people you know what you’re doing.

What of Mayor Giuliani? His former mode was to hammer away until he buried the nailhead. Now he has cancer and a lover. The old Rudy had problems, but if this is the new one, let him be healthy and lonely. It is not likely that anyone will sort this out. Too many personalities and too many ambitions are entwined. If that is true, sip the last drink slowly, because the bar is closing.