(Pictured: Keiko Fujimori looking a little too happy to meet Rudolph Guiliani.)
Cross-posted from the Tumblr site Peru Elections 2011.
I lived part of the 1990s in Lima during the time of Alberto Fujimori. I lived the other part of the 1990s in New York when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor. Now, the mayor whose administration was criticized for being authoritarian and abusive is advising (in terms of crime policy) the daughter of the former president (and now convicted felon) who was also criticized for being authoritarian and abusive. How ironic! After absorbing the news of the arrival of Giuliani in Lima and his multi-city tour with Keiko Fujimori in Peru, I decided to write this post.
Some of my friends and family members appreciated Rudy Giuliani; for them, he made the Big Apple more “liveable” with his “zero-tolerance” anti-crime policies. However, I and many of my friends had a different view. I remember Giuliani as a mayor who was disdainful, intolerant, authoritarian at times. I remember accusation after accusation of police abuse, disdain for the citizens of New York, and an inability to listen.
I participated in various marches and protests against the Giuliani administration. One of the largest demonstrations happened in March of 1999, when a young immigrant from Guinea, Amadou Diallo, was killed when 19 bullets shot by four New York City police officers penetrated his body. Diallo was not armed. The four police officers who killed Diallo said that when they approached Diallo, believing him to be a wanted criminal, he reached into his pocket; thinking he was looking for a gun, they shot and killed him “in self-defense.” They shot 41 bullets – yes 41 bullets – and 19 entered the body of Diallo, killing him instantly. Self-defense? Most of us rejected this argument, but not Rudy Giuliani.
The news of the assassination of Diallo sparked massive protests against the Giulini administration. The mayor had come under increasing accusations that his strong-arm anti-crime tactics were stained with racist attitudes and practices. A year and a half later, another police abuse scandal forced scrutiny of Giuliani’s strong-arm policies. In August of 1997, a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, was detained and taken to the seventeenth district police station in New York City, where he was brutally tortured. The police officers sodomized him with a plunger, causing rectal and bladder wounds that kept him in the hospital for two months.
Some, including of course Giuliani himself, maintain that these scandals aside, the get-tough anti-crime policies were the principal cause of the decrease in the crime rate in New York City in the 1990s. This view has been challenged, however. Several studies suggest that economic growth at the national and local level, as well as demographic changes, offer better explanations in the decrease in the crime rate observed during the period of Giuliani’s administration.
The Use of Lethal Force
The four police officers that killed Amadou Diallo were members of the “street crimes” unit whose principal task was to eliminate illegal drugs on the streets of New York. The police officers in this unit utilized automatic pistols that contained 16 bullets that are discharged in seconds. In Rudy Giuliani’s New York, the police had to follow certain rules: they were able to use lethal force only when the police believed that their life was in danger. But, according to The New York Times, “anytime they need to fire, they are trained to fire until the security risk is eliminated. They have orders to never fire alarm shots, but to aim at the center of the body, not at the arms or legs.”
The four police officers were tried in upstate New York, presumably because in the city they could not get a fair trial; unsurprisingly, all of them were absolved in what many considered a travesty of justice. Later the family members of Amadou Diallo sued the City of New York, claiming that Diallo’s civil rights had been violated. In March of 2004, they came to an agreement in which the family received three million dollars, the largest sum paid by the city of New York for a murder of this nature.
Giuliani, the Authoritarian, Then and Now
Giuliani never took protests against his policies seriously. Some time after the murder of Diallo, Reverend Al Sharpton, a recognized leader of the African-American community, began organizing daily protests next to City Hall in protest of the police brutality and alleged racism of Giuliani’s administration. But Giuliani, by and large, ignored such protests. As a result, he lost the trust of many citizens who came to believe that his tactics and anti-crime policies were counterproductive, even criminal, and that his inability to listen to his critics reflected an incurable authoritarian tendency.
After his time as the mayor of New York, possibly to win a seat in the Senate and facing a popular rival, Hillary Clinton, Giuliani resigned. In 2005, he decided to take a shot at the presidential campaigns. Giuliani and several members of the GOP thought the strong-arm tactics in New York would give them an edge in the 2008 presidential elections. Giuliani was defeated in the Republican Party primaries and he abandoned his presidential hopes. and the truth surrounding his policies was forgotten as he faded from the political limelight. Perhaps this is why he has lent his services to consult on crime policy for presidential candidates in other countries as in the case of Keiko Fujimori.
In reference to the Louima and Diallo cases, New York University law professor Paul Chevugny — an expert on political violence in the Americas — told the journal The Independent, “I do not remember another moment in which there were two high profile cases of political misconduct in a big city at the same time. And the case of Louima is virtually unprecedented. It is like something you would here from a Third World dictator.” Ah, perhaps this is why Guiliani has associated himself with Keiko Fujimori. Both of them are nostalgic for the 1990s.
Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor at George Mason University and also a WOLA Senior Fellow.