Democratic Underground

A Black New Yorker's Open Letter to Mayor Giuliani
September 29, 2001
by Tom Grayman

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Dear Mayor Giuliani,

You have done a great job holding everything together in our city in the wake of the unconscionable attack against us on September 11th. I saw you on TV running for your life as the buildings fell. You held seemingly around-the-clock press conferences to keep us updated on the latest. You locked down the transit and traffic situation right away. You reminded us not to beat up our Middle Eastern and Arab neighbors. You struck the right tone throughout.

I'm not surprised, I guess, to read in the paper today that you wish to remain in office beyond the statutorily-defined end of your term, which is currently slated to expire at the end of 2001. As an African-American resident of our great city, I think I speak for most of my community when I say, "Uh, that won't be necessary."

Apparently you said yesterday that you wanted to stay on to "maintain the unity that exists in the city." You probably heard a loud thud right around that time. That was us falling off of our chairs in laughter. Given all that you have done over the last eight years to obliterate "unity" in our city, Mr. Mayor, we have a hard time suddenly envisioning you as unity's champion. These are a few of the highlights we recall:

In your first months in office, you eliminated the special assistants that act as liaisons to the city's various ethnic groups. For over a year you refused to return the phone calls of Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who is black, after explicitly promising to reach out to this city's minority community following your 1997 re-election. You also refused to return the calls of State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who is black, for something like three years. Your inappropriately-named spokeswoman, Sunny Mandel, hung up the phone on a reporter for the newspaper Newsday who had the gall to ask about your relationship with the city's African-American and Latino communities.

You sent the unmistakable message to your police force that no amount of unjustified force, when applied to the city's black and Latino youth, will be penalized in any meaningful way. That's why Officer Francis Livotti, despite having more than a dozen civilian complaints of excessive force on his record, was still patrolling streets the day he decided to choke a Latino teenager to death over a football inadvertently hitting the officer's car. That's why four undercover cops were predisposed to see Amadou Diallo's wallet as gun, leading them to vaporize him in a hail of 41 bullets. That's why one of your search-and-destroy undercover cops felt free to gun down Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed black man, because he had the temerity to physically resist another undercover's efforts to get Dorismond to sell him drugs. Dorismond, as you remember, was not a drug dealer, and had no drugs on him.

I recall that your response to the Diallo shooting was to dismiss as "silly" those of us who protested the tactics of the police. I recall also that your response to the outrage over the Dorismond shooting was to illegally unseal and distribute his juvenile arrest record - which contained no major convictions - in an effort to demonize him.

(I know you think you were doing your best to fight crime in our great city. But I also know that several other cities, most famously Boston, saw reductions in crime at least as large as ours, without unleashing their police to traumatize their minority communities.)

By the way, one doesn't have to be a minority to find the image of you as the custodian of "unity" absolutely ludicrous. One just needs a memory that extends beyond September 11th. Such people will remember moments such as these:

You refused a permit to the AIDS advocacy group Housing Works to hold a rally in City Hall park because they had the nerve to criticize you. Meanwhile, you allowed rallies in the park for groups you favored, like the New York Yankees. A federal judge had to order you to grant the permit to Housing Works.

You threatened to cut off city funding to the Brooklyn Museum because it dared to exhibit a work of art you found offensive.

Federal judge Guido Calabresi was moved to bemoan the "relentless onslaught" of first amendment lawsuits you invited to be hurled at the city. The three dozen such lawsuits, almost all of which you lost, cost our city millions of dollars in fines and legal fees.

You picked fights with a succession of our city's school chancellors. Our current one, Harold Levy, had to wait two months after his appointment by the school board before you would finally return his phone calls. Your obstinacy was apparently due to the fact that Levy, well, wasn't the person you had wanted to be appointed.

In light of all that, we thought you might understand why one citizen, Bill Weinberg, felt justified in posting a sticker that read "GIULIANI IS A JERK" on a lamppost. But you didn't understand. He was arrested and spent a night in jail. And in light of all that, we thought you might understand why Brooklyn artist Robert Lederman would paint pictures depicting you as Hitler. But you didn't understand. You had him arrested 40 times over the years on various bogus charges. He was never found guilty of anything.

No, Rudy. You are the last person to maintain any "unity" we may be enjoying right now. In closing, I'd like to say this: thank you for your leadership during this unprecedented crisis.

Now get the hell out.