What Rudy Guiliani—And Most of the Media—Doesn't Understand About Today's Young Protesters
In several much publicized media appearances, former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani expressed his dismay at the huge protests against the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, arguing that the Black community and New Yorkers in general should be grateful for the aggressive police tactics he introduced, which he claimed saved tens of thousands of lives in NY's Black and Latino neighborhoods. To justify his argument, he pointed out that the murder rate in New York City has declined from over 2,000 a year when he took office to a little more than 300 a year today. Why, he asked, are young protesters not moved by this dramatic drop in violence?
There are many things you can say about Guiliani's comments, but one thing it reveals is how out of touch he is with the lived experience of young people of color in New York City, especially those growing up in the city's shrinking and rapidly gentrifying working class and immigrant neighborhoods.
First of all, these young people have no memory of the wave of violence that swept through New York City when the crack epidemic hit, beginning in the mid 1980s and continuing through the mid 1990s. Even among scholars, the question of whether aggressive policing or community revulsion against crack did more to reduce the murder rate is a matter of debate. But most people in high school or college now have no memory of the crack years—except through the music of Biggie, Nas and JZ—and so feel absolutely no sense of gratitude for the reduction in violence in the neighborhoods they are living in. Coming of age after the year 2,000, they did not experience the gun battles between rival crews outside their apartment buildings and schools that their counterparts did a decade earlier.
But more importantly, their experience with police and law enforcement has been so stifling and intimidating and suffocating that it nullifies any statistical comparisons that might be made between the 90s and today. The combination of a huge expansion of the city's police force and application of the "broken windows" theory of policing has left young people of color feeling subject to harassment and public humiliation in their neighborhoods, at their schools, and in their ventures into the city's shopping districts.
All over New York City, for the last 10 years, armies of police officers have roamed through city, stopping young men of color hundreds of thousands of times, allegedly in the search for guns and drugs, even though less than 5% of the stops find anything illegal. It is hard to find a young Black and Latino male from the Bronx , or Southeast Queens, who has not been "stopped and frisked" numerous times, a ritual that is frightening, humiliating, and filled with a message that they are viewed as an object of fear by city officials. This can happen to them outside their apartment building or school, in the subway, or when they are shopping or going to play ball. The awareness of this possibility hovers over them like a bad dream.
Worse yet, virtually all of the high schools they attend now have metal detectors, so going to school now involves the virtual equivalent of passing through airport security! After worrying about being searched by police going to school, they find themselves searched by police IN SCHOOL—a process made more likely because more and more schools now have students arrested for disciplinary issues that were once handled in-house by school personnel, such as cursing out a teacher, refusing to remove a hat, or shoving another student.
What we are talking about here is something utterly unprecedented in the history of New York and perhaps American urban history—the militarization of entire neighborhoods so that young people of color feel vulnerable to search and seizure and physical abuse every time they step outside of their place of residence.
This smothering, stifling police presence is THEIR REALITY, something they deeply resent not only for the fear it inspires, but for the message it sends about what the rest of the city and the rest of the nation thinks of them
That is why they rise up in anger when someone unarmed who looks like them is killed by police. They see themselves in Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the long list of other victims of police violence.
And they feel no gratitude toward the public officials who have given police license to control every inch of space in their communities—at their expense.
With A Brooklyn Accent