- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

Watching the spectacle of New York City where the recent shooting death by an undercover policeman of an unarmed, young black man (the third in 13 months) has again drawn Mayor Rudy Giuliani's opponents into a macabre, if formidable, political union is a surreal, possibly unique experience, more akin to viewing an Oliver Stone movie than following current events.

On the one hand, there are the facts. New York City crime has dramatically declined plunged under Mr. Giuliani, restoring a practically lawless city to its former vibrancy. This is no secret. What is little known is that police restraint the extent to which police hold their fire and their force has also improved under Mr. Giuliani, and even more dramatically than the excellent crime statistics.

For example, where overall crime is down by more than 55 percent and homicide down by more than 65 percent, intentional shootings per policeman are down by 77 percent since 1993, the last year Mayor David Dinkins was in office. That year, there were 23 police shooting fatalities out of 212 shooting incidents. In 1999, the same year that Amadou Diallo was mistakenly and infamously killed, there were 11 such fatalities out of 71 shooting incidents. This translates into .28 fatalities per 1,000 officers the lowest rate among five major cities, including Miami, where fatalities reached 3 per 1,000 officers last year, and Washington, where they stood at 1.14. Not surprisingly, 965 police bullets were discharged in New York 1993, as opposed to 417 in 1999.

As police restraint has improved, according to Steven M. Fishner, the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator, "the rate of civilian complaints against officers has also declined." Writing in the New York Post, Mr. Fishner notes that New Yorkers have filed fewer use-of-force complaints at the Civilian Complaint Review Board every year since Mr. Giuliani took office, even as Mr. Giuliani has boosted the board's funding by 30 percent and hired 40 percent more staff.

You've read the statistics. Now, see the movie or, rather, what unfolds like a movie, the street theater extraordinaire that has replaced civic discourse in the Big Apple. The death of Patrick Dorismond, a 26-year-old Haitian immigrant whom undercover police killed in a struggle after an officer asked him for drugs, has set in motion a horrific narrative based not in fact, but in emotion. Some is genuine, like his family's grief, some ginned up, such as the rhetorical outrage over Mr. Giuliani's release of Dorismond's rap sheet of violence. It is guided not by a search for truth, which is the subject of an investigation into the shooting now underway, but by naked political agendas united by a common antagonism toward Mr. Giuliani, from Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Senate race, to Al Sharpton and his unsettling role as Democratic Party power-broker. Characterized by the intensity of the provocateurs, the story plays well to a media driving and being driven by the tingling possibilities of violence in the streets. All of which leaves both Mr. Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir practically stock characters, mere foils to this ongoing coup de theatre.

Except that Mr. Giuliani is nobody's prop. After rioting broke out during Dorismond's Saturday Sharpton-led funeral procession during which 23 policemen and five civilians were wounded, Mr. Giuliani and the police were once again put on the defensive.

"My brother's funeral was ruined by the NYPD," Patrick Dorismond's sister Marie told the New York Daily News. "Any violence was a response to provocation by the police," the Haitian Coalition for Justice's Carl Auguste told the New York Post. According to the Daily News, Mr. Sharpton called for a federal investigation into Saturday's melee from a church pulpit, charging that the presence of police in riot gear provoked the bottle-throwing, flag-burning violence. Does it matter that the initial police presence at the funeral march was 300 community affairs officers wearing light blue jackets and soft caps? In New York today, just as in the Oliver Stone school of film-making, facts are expendable.

Widely vilified, down in the latest polls in his Senate race with Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Giuliani, amazingly, stands firm. "Yesterday was an orchestrated attack on the police," Mr. Giuliani said Sunday, commending police professionalism and restraint. He's right. But whether he can prevail in this urgent battle of perception vs. reality is, alas, another matter.

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