'Giuliani Time': Just When You Thought You Knew How Evil He Is
"Peddlers, panhandlers and prostitutes, they all need to be cleaned out [of Manhattan]." The first time I heard Rudy Giuliani speak was on a NBC nightly news broadcast. It was 1996. I was living in Oakland, Calif., at the time -- 3,000 miles away from Manhattan, where, as mayor, Giuliani was implementing his "clean-up campaign." But the sting of his speech still scared me.
It was the first time I had heard hygienic metaphors to describe poor people like me who were surviving in an underground street-based economy. Rudy Giuliani had become mayor of New York City on a campaign that constructed a new scapegoat for all of America's crime problems: "the squeegee man" (aka a person who cleans car windows at stop lights).
Giuliani was emboldened with "the broken window" philosophy, which claimed that if broken windows remain unfixed for a period of time the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it's unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
The theory was promoted by the hyperconservative Manhattan Institute and was already litmus tested by N.Y. Police chief Bill Bratten. In his now-infamous statement, Giuliani publicly linked three street-based economies and communities with dirt or trash: They were something to be cleaned up as a means to create the perfect U.S. city.
Under his rule, ridding Manhattan of the newly designated and oxymoronic "quality of life" criminals such as panhandlers, recyclers, window washers (aka squeegee men), sex workers, hot dog peddlers and street artists was the way to have a crime-free, user-friendly, corporate dollar-fueled city.
All of these memories came to me as I watched the little-seen but important documentary Giuliani Time. The two-hour-and-20-minute feature, produced and directed by Kevin Keating, uses a series of in-depth interviews with policy makers, advocates, sociologists and urban planners to reveal how Giuliani's policies during his reign from 1994-2001 led to extreme and dangerous police empowerment and subsequent decimation of human and civil rights of poor people and communities of color. The film shows how he created a template for criminalization that would be eventually emulated and implemented by mayors across the country -- from Atlanta to San Francisco.
The movie begins with a look at Giuliani's family roots with crime and vice: His uncle Harold was a loan shark out of a bar he ran in Brooklyn and eventually did hard time in Sing Sing. It then follows Giuliani's ambitious rise from state attorney general to a mayor who appropriated as his own the "quality of life" crime campaign from then-police chief Bratton.
The film shows a somewhat dense series of interviews outlining Giuliani's draconian strategy of using New York police to attack and manipulate the short-lived mayoral run of David Dinkins. Once he achieved his position as mayor, Giuliani began an onslaught of race-based profiling and harassment of African-American communities in New York by the NYPD.
Simultaneously, he launched a campaign to cut people off welfare en masse, regardless of its impact on poor families, to have homeless people considered criminals, and to have the simple acts of sitting, standing and sleeping outdoors and surviving on a street-based economy designated as crimes.
His welfare policies succeeded in making Giuliani the mayor best known for getting 600,000 welfare recipients off welfare and into a new form of slavery, "workfare." Workfare, is the hard labor (that isn't considered real work by the welfare system and most of society for that matter) one must do to get the minimal cash aid distributed by welfare. This includes doing previously union-held jobs like crack-of-dawn street sweeping and public restroom cleaning, and other forms of menial labor, for much less than minimum wage.
As this documentary revealed, Giuliani's police policies resulted in the specific profiling, abuse and arrest of men of color. The film shows the horrors that resulted from a newly emboldened police force -- including the brutalization of Hatian immigrant Abner Louima and the murder of Liberian immigrant Amadou Diallo.
As the daughter of a poor, homeless woman of color who worked on the street to survive in L.A., Oakland and San Francisco, I have felt the direct impact of locally implemented Giuliani-derived criminalizing policies over the last 10 years such as the Business Improvement District (BID), which in San Francisco was based in Union Square but modeled after Giuliani's BID in Times Square. Each BID includes a squared-off area that is policed by a private police force that cites, harasses and profiles everyone selling, sitting or standing who appears to be "poor." With the BIDs come the so-called "community courts," which are courts dedicated to the adjudication of "poverty crimes," i.e, selling without a license, trespassing, sleeping, urinating and other low-level crimes of poverty.
After viewing this documentary, I became even more terrified of Giuliani's impact. Rarely has one man so successfully harnessed the hatred and ignorance of the U.S. public for poor people and people of color. And rarely has the connection between race, class, xenophobia and ableism been so clearly played out in legislative actions such as the BIDs, community courts and overall police harassment of poor people that reverberate today in cities across the United States and is referred to by economic justice organizers as the "Manhattanization" of a city.
Quite by accident I was able to witness firsthand the impact of Giulani-like policies in action in Georgia. As a member of a delegation to the U.S. Social Forum, I visited Atlanta. Upon entering one of their business improvement districts, aka a Disney-like mall "town" that included chain stores and restaurants, I was met with a small corporate-logo covered police car filled with "officers" who wore cartoon-like bounty hunter hats. When some of my group and myself attempted to lean against a light pole and make a cell phone call we were asked to move because our leaning created a "perception of loitering."
As a low-income resident of San Francisco, another one of thousands of U.S. cities following Giuliani's model for "cleanliness," I grapple every day with the new science fiction-like world of where to sleep, sit, stand or dwell in a public place as a poor person when all of those things can be a crime. Where, even if you don't "look homeless," the mere perception of loitering is a citable offense.
Like some of the worst and bloodiest horror movies, you want to cringe and look away from Giuliani Time, but hold on to your seat, watch, look and listen carefully, because this man is running for president, and we must act now or his new form of fascism masked as "cleanliness" will be the norm for the entire United States.