- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

Hillary Rodham Clinton, who lags 7-10 points in the polls behind New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani no matter how often she announces her Senate candidacy (or talks up the joys of grocery shopping), has finally found her issue: racial division. It's neither pretty, nor uplifting, nor productive of anything beside crippling antagonisms. But given the odd conditions of Mayor Giuliani's New York City, it could prove effective.

Outside New York City, it's hard to sense the smarting friction that exists in this boom town, whose safe streets, courtesy of Mr. Giuliani and the NYPD, serve as a daily rebuttal to an outmoded liberal doctrine still favored by the city establishment. When undercover police killed a man last week, not long after the sensational trials of New York policemen for the torture of Abner Louima (guilty) and the death of Amadou Diallo (innocent), Mrs. Clinton, supported by the city establishment, found her voice. So what if it sounded just like Al Sharpton's? No longer will she be regarded as a novice bumping along the campaign trail. Having successfully exploited the shooting death of Patrick Dorismond, the first lady has proven herself a demagogue in her own right.

Harsh words, yes. But there are few others that do as well to describe Mrs. Clinton's outrageous rhetoric during a week in which she repeatedly accused Mr. Giuliani of "dividing the city" for leading "the rush to judgment" about the Dorismond shooting. "For the sake of our police officers," she said. "For the sake of our children" (children you know she's really trying to hit one out of the park), "for the sake of all New Yorkers, the mayor must stop dividing this city."

What did the mayor do to put the quaver in Mrs. Clinton's voice? What he learned to do after watching riots erupt in 1992 when a shooting victim's record was withheld by the administration of his predecessor, David Dinkins, and the dead man was depicted as a martyred innocent. Describing Mr. Dorismond as no "altar boy," Mr. Giuliani released his rap sheet showing a history of violent incidents. He later released the disciplinary record of the policeman involved.

Mrs. Clinton's melodramatic appeal seems calculated not to unite the city whatever that means but to divide it for herself, to roil race relations not only to boost minority turnout on Election Day, but also, more deviously, to create a climate in which the Justice Department, currently investigating the NYPD, would recommend its federal takeover. Meanwhile, there is no "racial" aspect to the Dorismond shooting. As Mr. Giuliani pointed out when asked whether he would "reach out to the black community," all involved were minority members. Mr. Dorismond was black; the three undercover policemen are Hispanic. That didn't stop Mrs. Clinton from pouncing on Mr. Giuliani's sensible refusal to treat the shooting as a racial incident. She attacked his "utter failure in leadership," declaring he had "written off entire communities."

Whether Mrs. Clinton has done herself actual political good is unclear, but her demagoguery has spun a tornado's worth of controversy. In a city once ungovernable, in a city he practically remade, Mr. Giuliani stands under siege, depicted as the head of a trigger-happy NYPD that kills bystanders for kicks. As thrilling as this fantasy is to Mr. Giuliani's opponents, it's time to consider the facts.

The biggest secret about the NYPD is its stellar record for restraint that is, for holding fire. In 1993, Mayor Dinkins' last year, there were 23 police shooting fatalities; in 1999, there were 11, the lowest number on New York's record books a rate of .28 fatalities per 1,000 officers that trumps five large urban departments, including Miami, which posted 3 fatalities per 1,000 officers (10 times New York's rate), and Washington, DC, which posted 1.14. And there's more. In 1993, there were 212 intentional police shootings in New York; in 1999, there were 71. Since the NYPD has grown by 38 percent, the intentional shooting rate has declined an amazing 77 percent. No wonder that in 1993 police fired 965 bullets, compared to 417 in 1999.

Despite these gigantic reductions, the Clinton Justice Department continues contemplating a federal takeover of the NYPD. This isn't good government; this is punitive politicking. "I didn't see the Justice Department in 1993, when there were 212 intentional shootings, [investigating] the NYPD during an election year for David Dinkins," said Mr. Giuliani in a radio interview. "Or giving me and [Police Commissioner] Howard Safir and the police a commendation for having reduced that horrendous [intentional shooting] record by 77 percent. The NYPD has a better record for restraint than they do for crime reduction," he said. "And the Justice Department should be giving them an award, not an investigation."

He's right. But so long as the Al Sharptons and the Hillary Clintons go unchallenged, who will know?

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