Hiring the former New York mayor to help reduce Rio’s horrific crime rate is a really bad idea.
Rio has hired Rudy Giuliani to tackle its crime problem. When the idea first came up, I kept hoping the mayor of my favorite Brazilian city would come to his senses before he made a big mistake. I understand the urgency and the logic of turning to Giuliani. Rio will be the site of the 2016 Olympics and it’s not too soon to start thinking about bringing down the horrific crime rate. Murders in Rio take place at about nine times the rate of New York — and Rudy has taken a lot of the credit for reducing the murder rate in the Big Apple.
Giuliani’s reputation has always been a lot better the farther you lived from his stomping grounds. At a distance, he was the brave mayor who led his city nobly after the 9/11 attacks and who brought the nearly ungovernable city’s crime rate under control. But New York’s former mayor also has a mean streak when it comes to black folks. That could be disastrous in Brazil, a country that has yet to come to terms with its own, largely-undiscussed, racism.
For those of us who actually lived in New York during Giuliani’s reign, he was a nasty piece of work. This was a man who barred senior city officials from appearing on TV – even at fires – to assure his monopoly of the media. This was the guy whose wife learned he was divorcing her from a televised press conference. He was also known to brook no disagreement.
And this was a mayor who, over 8 years in office, was never able to show any empathy for black people. Born in Brooklyn but raised in the suburbs, Rudy never seemed comfortable around African Americans. In fact, he held black leaders, both elected and unofficial, in open contempt. He refused to meet with black elected officials, declaring that since they disagreed with him, there was no point to it and his inner circle of advisors was, predictably, lily-white.
He never saw a cop he couldn’t defend. The infamous 41-bullet NYPD execution of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant who was trying to show his ID, happened on Rudy’s watch. When a poor Haitian immigrant holding two jobs and attending community college was killed in a scuffle with an undercover cop who tried to sell him drugs, Rudy released the kid’s juvenile record. And of course, there was the case of Abner Louima, sodomized by a policeman, that was seen by many as an indication of a department that was free to police as Rudy saw fit.
Yes, crime did go down during Rudy’s term of office. Murders in New York dropped from over 2000 in 1991 to fewer than 500 in 2007, but experts disagree about how much impact the mayor’s policies had — and how much has to do with the end of the crack wars that lifted homicides to record levels. Just recently, the New York Times, which had consistently endorsed the mayor’s self-serving narrative, ran a remarkable corrective story in November noting that crime actually started to decline under Giuliani’s predecessor David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, after he added 8,000 cops to the city’s payroll.
The individual who probably should get most of the credit for lowering New York’s crime rate is William Bratton, who recently completed a stint as police chief of Los Angeles. Bratton had the insight to apply computer analysis to criminal events. This system discerned crime patterns and put police commanders on the spot to solve the problems.
But black New Yorkers paid a heavy price for the preventive approach. Young black men were so often the target of stop-and-frisk campaigns that civil libertarians suspected racial profiling. The city’s response is that they were acting on the basis of descriptions given by crime victims, an argument that hasn’t found many believers.
The police in Brazil are a lot more heavy-handed than in New York. Human Rights Watch estimates that Brazilian police have killed more than 11,000 civilians in the states of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro since 2003 in their battle against violence triggered by a drug war. Most of the killings, say the group, are outside the law, classified as “self-defense” by Brazilian authorities. Then there’s the problem of Brazil’s considerable population of street children, many of whom are beaten or killed by organized death squads operated by off-duty Brazilian police. Many of the largest slums or favelas are in the control of drug-dealing gangs who are often more heavily armed than the police.
And let’s not forget the race issue. Brazil, like many Latin American countries, lives in denial of its racial problems. Brazilians love to say that everyone gets along. Yet, wealth and power are color-coded in Brazil and there is no Obama in sight. It’s hard to imagine Giuliani showing any sensitivity to the racial situation in Brazil. Or finding a way to bring Brazilian cops under control.
Joel Dreyfuss is The Root’s managing editor. Follow him on Twitter.