Rudy Giuliani and the Lessons of Central Park

  • Share
  • Read Later
Funny what a week under the klieg lights of national scrutiny will do to a man. Take New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and his ubiquitous sidekick, Police Commissioner Howard Safir, for example.

Five short days ago, both men were pooh-poohing the idea that police stood idly by as perhaps as many as 37 women were sexually assaulted in Central Park during the drunken, hot aftermath of the June 10 Puerto Rican Day parade. But after five days of unwelcome, outraged national media attention, both men had cast aside their cavalier attitudes and were miraculously transformed into the urban equivalent of white knights, galloping in (albeit a few days late) to save their city and its women from bands of marauding molesters.

Giuliani, of course, stands to suffer more politically from this mess — this is the mayor who styles himself as something of an autocrat, who enjoys cracking the whip every once in a while. He's all about law and order. For Pete's sake, he tried to stamp out jaywalking in New York City. So how could this attack take place in his city, on his watch, with the oft-chastened NYPD on the scene?

There are plenty of possible explanations, and no absolutes. One popular theory, vehemently denied by the commissioner himself, is that the police were told to keep their distance during Sunday's festivities; the last thing this department needs, in the wake of the police shootings of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, is another well-publicized confrontation with minorities.

The other, even more unsettling possibility is that the police simply don't take sex crimes very seriously — a postulation backed by many activists, who report trying to introduce sex crime education into the NYPD curriculum for years. All those unsuccessful attempts have left the city's victim advocates frustrated, and more than a little bit apprehensive about the current force, who have never been trained to deal with sex crimes, and who don't even track sexual assault as a "real" crime.

TIME New York correspondent Elaine Rivera on the political fallout:

"It will be interesting to see how Giuliani fares politically in the wake of Sunday's assaults. Throughout his tenure as mayor, he's fought to maintain an illusion of safety; it's been his meal ticket. If that veneer of law and order slips away, what is he left with?"