“Hours after a gunman in an orange construction vest released two smoke grenades and fired at least 33 shots on an N train in Brooklyn, hundreds of police officers were searching Tuesday night for a 62-year-old man whom police officials have linked to the shooting,” the New York Times reported. “Detectives were seeking to question the man…about the attack at the 36th Street station in Sunset Park that injured at least 23 people, some of them children traveling to school.”
Was this a reference to New York’s crime-riddled streets and subways in the 1970s, prompting the emergence of fictional vigilantes like Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson in the Death Wish films) and actual ones like Bernhard Goetz? Was it an article pulled from the Times’ archives of the 1980s, when Mayors Koch and Dinkins stood helplessly by as the widely heralded “greatest city in the world” devolved into one giant crack den?
Nope, it’s a story from April 12, the date on which the horrific incident took place.
In between the New York of today and its counterpart in the Seventies and Eighties came a mayor named Rudy Giuliani, who transformed that giant crack den into one of the safest big cities in the world. His successor, Mike Bloomberg, did an admirable job holding serve, sufficiently preserving the greatness upon which Giuliani had built.
It was ‘Giuliani Time’. That phrase for too long was associated with the savage beating and torture police officers administered to Abner Louima. The victim claimed that as the officers beat and otherwise horrifically assaulted him, they shouted “it’s Giuliani time.” Subsequently, Louima admitted that claim was false. Of course, it doesn’t negate the severity of the officers’ offense, all of whom received heavy prison sentences, while Louima was awarded $8.75 million in a civil lawsuit against the city.
Without question, that incident and others like it deserve no place in civilized society. Law enforcement officers dishonor their badge when they commit such atrocities and deserve severe consequences under the rule of law. However, far too many New Yorkers and others throughout the country really do believe the cops shouted “it’s Giuliani time” as they pummeled Louima, and probably believe the then-Mayor was all for it.
Sadly, we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. Under the mayorship of the horrendous Bill de Blasio, police officers were essentially neutered. Their morale was shattered; many left the force altogether while others accepted offers from some of our nation’s bright young governors, such as South Dakota’s Kristi Noem to work there, where crimefighting still mattered.
In other major cities, though, shoplifters are no longer being prosecuted. Storeowners simply keep almost everything under lock and key, because the worst thing that would happen to a thief is to be scolded: “hey, that’s not yours, give it back!”
No criminal suspect should be brutally assaulted, as a jury concluded beyond a reasonable doubt the cops had done to Louima. But victims shouldn’t be handled with kid gloves, either. And bystanders shouldn’t whip out their phones and fancy themselves to be documentary filmmakers as they berate police in the line of duty.
Granted, we should return to neighborhood policing, rather than cops showing up after the fact dressed in combat gear as if they’re under attack by chemical weapons, but that alone won’t stop subway shooters, business robberies, and other lawbreaking outside the particular community being policed.
Criminals smell weakness. They know they won’t be handcuffed literally as long as the police are figuratively.
Forcing New York’s Finest to fight crime like pacifist creampuffs, or encouraging them to commit brutality upon their victims is not a binary choice. There are several levels in between. And with choices come consequences. At times, the police may be a little too rough physically, and quite often, verbally they behave like absolute jerks (I’m thinking of much stronger adjectives, but decency curbs me from disclosing them). And if for whatever reason, to an arresting officer you happen to look like a thug even if you’re not, you may find yourself unjustly harassed. But the tradeoff is that our streets, stores, and subways will be safer.
Catholic school alumni often recall stories of how nuns would beat them on the knuckles with rulers. That may not be an ideal teaching method, but it probably prevented chaos and anarchy in the classrooms and corridors. In stark contrast, substitute teachers often get abused by students and are often powerless to do anything about it.
Forcing our citizens to go out of their way to act nice and overly respectful when the police walk or drive by may seem like an abuse of our civil liberties.
But the city will be safer.
Americans ought to do a gut check and ask themselves: what’s most important to you in an attorney general or a police commissioner: fighting crime or treating citizens with respect? Of course, we want both, but given the choice, which one of these qualities most prominently comes to mind?
Here in Florida, when attending a ballgame or a concert, the police are usually super-friendly and tend to joke with the crowd as they file into the arenas. In the New York Metropolitan area, I remember cops barking at the crowd, treating them like a drill sergeant might treat new military recruits in boot camp. That’s not very pleasant.
But I’ll take an odious obnoxious cop over a subway shooter anytime.
Bronson’s dead and Goetz is pushing 75, but another vigilante is likely to emerge.
Or, we can elect another Rudy Giuliani.
Maybe Mayor Eric Adams will rise to the occasion. We’ll see.