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Charles Upton Sahm
Trashing Giuliani
A silly documentary tries—and fails—to tar the record of America’s Mayor.
12 May 2006

A new documentary, Giuliani Time, premiers in New York today. Fair and balanced it’s not. Publicity materials trumpet that the film is “certain to bust open the myth of Giuliani” as America’s Mayor that developed after 9/11 and reveal his inner “totalitarian” impulses. (The think tank where I work, the Manhattan Institute, plays a starring, albeit nefarious, role as the shadowy right-wing organization where Giuliani got many of his extremist ideas.)

The film’s main indictment charges Giuliani with ushering in policing tactics that led to widespread brutality against minorities. “It’s not Dinkins Time anymore; it’s Giuliani Time” is the taunt police officer Justin Volpe supposedly uttered as he violated Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with a toilet plunger in a Brooklyn precinct house bathroom nine years ago. (Louima later admitted that Volpe never used the phrase; activists had encouraged him to add the incendiary detail to his story.) The film, to its credit, acknowledges that Mayor Giuliani quickly condemned the attack and visited Louima in the hospital, and that Volpe is currently serving a 30-year jail sentence for his vile act.

The movie also focuses on the tragic death of Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo. In the summer of 1999, four detectives from the NYPD Street Crimes Unit, while searching for a serial rapist who fit Diallo’s description, unleashed a hail of 41 bullets when they mistakenly thought the innocent Diallo had drawn a gun on them. It was a grievous error—not, as the movie insinuates, an intentional racist outrage. The film also fails to mention that complaints of police brutality and incidents of police shooting declined dramatically during the Giuliani administration. In 1990, the NYPD shot 108 people, 41 fatally. By 2001, those numbers had plummeted to 28 and 11, respectively—even though a third more cops were on the street.

The Diallo portion of the film reminded me of an old friend of mine, Abdoulaye, a Senegalese immigrant who was a security guard in the building where I worked in the early nineties. To make ends meet, Abdoulaye and his brother split shifts as livery cab drivers at night—an extraordinarily dangerous profession pre-Giuliani. Between 1990 and 1993, 193 livery cab drivers were murdered, virtually all of them minorities and immigrants. Over the course of just a few months, Abdoulaye was beaten and robbed at gunpoint, his brother stabbed nearly to death. Fed up with New York’s crime, they eventually decided to move to Dallas and pursue the American dream in a city that they (rightly, at the time) regarded as safer and more civilized.

After Rudy Giuliani took office, attacks on livery cab drivers began to drop precipitously, along with crime generally. In early 2000, however, a sudden rash of 10 livery driver murders between January and May once again had drivers fearing for their lives. But where the Dinkins administration had dithered, the Giuliani administration acted swiftly and effectively to protect the drivers. Mayor Giuliani ordered the installation of bulletproof partitions or security cameras in all livery cabs and helped pay for them with city funds. The city offered free mobile phones to drivers, authorized a $10,000 reward for information, and established a relief fund for the slain drivers’ families.

Meanwhile, the NYPD assigned scores of detectives to investigate the murders, purchased a raft of decoy cabs, and intensified its Taxi Robbery Interdiction Program, which stops livery cabs for random safety checks. After the arrest of a passenger for drug possession during one such stop, the ACLU sued on illegal-search-and-seizure grounds. The Giuliani administration ingeniously responded by handing out window decals that informed passengers that the driver consented to police stops, thus allowing the program to pass constitutional muster.

The result of all this hard work: livery cab murders again fell. Not one murder of a cab driver occurred for the rest of 2000, and the number has remained low ever since.

Not that you’d know any of this from Giuliani Time. The film insists that nothing really special happened in New York with regard to crime. The 70 percent reduction in murder was dumb luck, it seems—merely part of a nationwide trend. But crime in New York fell farther and faster than crime nationwide, and continues to drop while many other cities have experienced a reversal. New York’s crime decline has driven the national numbers; and other cities have adopted the tactics that worked here or hired away top NYPD brass to run their departments.

The film also targets Giuliani’s “mean-spirited” welfare policies. In fact, those policies led to 650,000 people moving from a life of dependency to the world of work, and the Bloomberg administration has continued them, unaltered. Giuliani is also guilty of “restricting free speech,” the film asserts, because he had the audacity to question whether city tax dollars should fund “art” flamboyantly offensive to the large numbers of taxpayers who are Catholic. It’s worth noting here that the last film the movie’s director and producer, Kevin Keating, was involved in was Fidel, a favorable portrait of a man not known for fostering free speech.

The film gives lots of screen time to Wayne Barrett, a Village Voice reporter, who discusses Giuliani’s father’s possible connections to organized crime. But the movie points out that Giuliani’s father moved the family from Brooklyn to Long Island to keep his children away from such influences. Even Barrett has to admit that, first as U.S. attorney and later as mayor, almost no one in history has done more to combat the Mafia than Giuliani.

The ultimate irony, however, is that the premier of Giuliani Time will screen at the Sunshine Theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Built in 1898, it was once a Yiddish vaudeville house. The theater closed its doors when the neighborhood began to decline after World War Two. It wasn’t until the late nineties, at the height of the Giuliani renaissance, that a new ownership group purchased the theater and spent millions restoring it. The Sunshine reopened in December 2001, during Giuliani’s final days in office.

Today, the Lower East Side, like so many formerly blighted neighborhoods in the city, flourishes, with people from myriad backgrounds living together in relative harmony, enjoying all that this incredible city has to offer, participating in what Rudy Giuliani likes to call “the genius of American life.” New Yorkers know the real story of the Giuliani era: it’s all around them every time they walk out their front door. And no left-wing documentary will convince them otherwise, especially one as silly and patently ideological as this.

In fact, the documentary inadvertently affirms Giuliani’s solid record of achievement in taming the once “ungovernable” New York. It could serve to bolster Giuliani’s credentials with fair-minded people, who will judge those interviewed—the cynical academics who attempt to explain away New York’s crime decline, the able-bodied guys receiving welfare who whine about having to work, the narcissistic artists who object that having to get permits to sell their art on the streets is an assault on free speech—as untrustworthy special-pleaders. If Giuliani really is running for president, perhaps he should send the film out to all the Republican Party’s delegates. As the song goes, if you can make it there. . . .

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More by Charles Upton Sahm:
The Little School that Could
Broken and Divided
Choice, Accountability, and Achievement
More . . .
This story was cited in:
Newsmax.com
The Politicker
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