The two words least likely to appear close together in a Mayoral pronouncement are “civil” and “disobedience.” Rudolph Giuliani is not one for public displays of symbolic lawbreaking or even scofflawing. Does the law say that citizens must walk single file and in size order as they cross the street? Well, then, the law must be followed, and it would be sad, very sad, very, very sad, if those who disagree with the law willfully failed to comply.
The spectacle of daily arrests at Police Headquarters has run its course, but it has achieved a remarkable result. David Dinkins, Charles Rangel, Ruth Messinger, Fernando Ferrer, Mark Green, the Rev. Al Sharpton-part of the denigrated and supposedly vanquished forces of pre-Giuliani New York-have exacted a measure of revenge for the crass slights and vulgar insults they have suffered from our imperial City Hall. Not only have they called attention to the minority community’s complaints about Mr. Giuliani’s Police Department, but they have successfully swayed public opinion-not African-American opinion, or minority opinion, or Upper West Side opinion, but public opinion-on an issue that was considered settled. That would be the offensive notion that Rudolph Giuliani has quote-unquote tamed New York, that he has remolded the city in his own image, that barbarous and savage New Yorkers now are neat and civil and clean and unprotesting, that those awful liberals who ruined New York have been rhetorically carpet-bombed back to the Stoned Age.
It has been a crock all along, of course, and therefore it is the received wisdom of various media outlets (including, on occasion, this one). New York is basically the same chaotic, unpredictable, energetic and disorderly city it was seven years ago, minus the horrendous murder rate and the national recession. If you don’t think so, ask the folks driving U-Hauls in the direction of points suburban. They’ll tell you that the public schools still stink, just like they stunk seven years ago. Instinct and anecdote suggest that the public schools have driven and will continue to drive people out of New York quicker than any other problem, including crime. The people who believe that Mr. Giuliani single-handedly quote-unquote tamed New York are either out-of-towners pleased that the homeless have been swept from the central business district or the parents of private school students.
There’s no denying that New York is a better place to commute to today because crime is low-the Mayor surely deserves some credit-and because the national economy is the strongest it has been since the 1950’s-the Mayor gets credit for having good luck. All honor and praise for the Mayor who presides over peace and prosperity!
But Mr. Giuliani and his minions wish to claim a great deal more. They would have the national media (so much of it based in New York and run by commuters and private-school parents) believe that New York before Mr. Giuliani’s election was a city out of control, a city in need of discipline, a city that had to be quote-unquote tamed.
And now we have the pictures of people being carted off in handcuffs after violating the security of Police Headquarters in order to make a political point. Tamed? Hardly. And God forbid.
The Mayor thinks the demonstrators were haters, and others sneered at the admittedly easy-to-satirize radical chicness of the demonstrations. Without question some of those who scheduled their arrest sometime between their power breakfast and lunch-hour workout have never given a moment’s thought about police officers killed in the line of duty. No doubt it would never occur to some of the demonstrators that most police officers-99.9 percent sounds like a reasonable figure-would prefer to put in their 25 years without ever drawing their service weapon, never mind firing it. And it no doubt would come as a revelation to some that the four officers who fired those infamous 41 shots at Amadou Diallo probably are not cold-blooded killers but panic-stricken working men who made a terrible and tragic mistake. (As opposed to the officers charged with the torture of Abner Louima, which clearly was not an accident.)
Still, the protests at Police Headquarters cannot be dismissed as the work of cop-haters and unrepentant hippies and pinko politicians. They were a sign that a very respectable portion of New York rejects the notion that it has been quote-unquote tamed. Those who were arrested are not, for the most part, the haters of Mr. Giuliani’s description. Save for the occasional publicity-crazed politician or celebrity, they were citizens who appeared to care deeply about the way in which minorities (and other innocents, as Bob Herbert has been reporting in The New York Times ) are treated as collateral damage in the war on crime.
What they were saying is that New York is not and will not be quote-unquote tamed. It will shake off Rudolph Giuliani just as it shook off other transients in City Hall.
It’s the people who make the city. Not the Mayor.