Former Trump attorney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani made headlines this week after he accused a grocery store worker of assaulting him. Surveillance video later released indicated that Giuliani had greatly exaggerated – and current mayor Eric Adams called him out on the matter, noting that making a false police report is a crime.
But as a legal expert correcting misinformation about New York’s criminal policy and as a civil rights lawyer who has spent years as a public defender, I know that little separates Adams from the former mayor whom he criticized so quickly. Giuliani’s policies have transcended political parties, surviving three decades of governance since his time as mayor. To leave Giuliani behind, we have to scold more than the man himself.
In Staten Island on Sunday, worker Daniel Gill, 39, patted Giuliani on the back as the former mayor campaigned for his son’s failed gubernatorial bid. According to his attorney, Gill sought Giuliani’s attention. “All of a sudden I feel a bullet in my back, like someone shot me,” Giuliani said. “It hurt a lot.”
Gill was arrested for second-degree assault — a Violent D felony that carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years. But surveillance footage told a very different story. The charges were reduced to misdemeanors, although they remain pending.
In response to the chain of events, Adams lamented, “What if we don’t have the video? This person would have been charged with a serious crime when all he did was pat the guy on the back. He continued, “You know, you can’t sensationalize to drive your own agenda. And you cannot use the police to carry out your own agenda. The former mayor replied, “Fuck you.”
While the two have traded barbs before, the criticisms here seem to stem from performative politics. Adams’ allegation of sensationalism, as apt as it is, comes from a mayor who himself engaged in agenda-driven sensationalism. Yet the answer to “What if?” d’Adams lies in far from hypothetical outcomes for countless New Yorkers arrested by NYPD officers before any investigation, as happened to Gill, and voters — including teenagers — which Adams himself vilified to advance his agenda before they were finally vindicated.
Indeed, it was Adams’ NYPD who chose to arrest Gill against the available evidence. Because the arrest charge is statutorily classified as ‘violent’, Gill would have been eligible for a provisional prison sentence on Rikers Island, where New Yorkers continue to suffer and die in nightmarish conditions with shocking regularity. . Although Gill is free at the moment, the case remains unresolved and is forever part of a very public media record. The outcome so far, however, has actually been better than the cases of many other New Yorkers charged with crimes; thanks to a stroke of luck, a video exists to show what really happened. But this case is an exception, not a rule.
As mayor, Giuliani was widely recognized as a vengeful and pugnacious man who fought openly and bitterly with people seen as political enemies, such as teachers. He hit out at politically excluded groups and identified people such as street vendors – also a repeat target of Adams and his police – and jaywalkers for vitriolic attacks. In the decades since his dubious post-9/11 rise as “America’s mayor,” Giuliani has gone from national figurehead to national laughingstock.
Adams’ allegation of sensationalism, as apt as it is, comes from a mayor who himself engaged in agenda-driven sensationalism.
But we live in the world that Giuliani helped build, where policymakers on both sides of the aisle pull the levers of crime and punishment to the right. It’s not just limited to New York. The supposedly progressive mayors of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago currently continue to respond to fear-based policies, calling for the criminalization of people in trouble, amplifying police propaganda that would lead to more people being locked up before trial. , and even claiming that anyone accused of certain crimes should be presumed guilty.
In the end, it’s not about some clownish person abusing a legitimate system. The system is Giuliani, a man who spent years as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York after working at the Department of Justice.
Beyond cursory criticism of Giuliani’s policies and statements, Adams has largely perpetuated, and even praised, the policies Giuliani adopted during his tenure. Both have opposed police accountability efforts during municipal administrations 30 years apart. Rather than recognizing that the safest communities have the most resources, not the highest arrest or incarceration rates, both have funded resources such as public education while pushing police budgets gigantic. Giuliani advanced policing through stop-and-frisk and “broken windows,” practices that persist despite public outcry, proven ineffectiveness and court findings of unconstitutionality. Adams and police leaders continue to use and defend some of these policies, even as they deny engaging in “broken window” policing.
Additionally, Giuliani has repeatedly attacked New York’s modest bail reform laws, which simply allow the poor, in limited circumstances, to remain free until and unless they are found guilty. of a crime – just as the rich and powerful have always done. Although the data still showed no decrease in public safety due to bail reform, Adams continues to serve as a scapegoat for the law, exploiting legitimate safety concerns and distracting attention from the real solutions to violence.
Giuliani defended the NYPD’s shooting of his constituents, including teenagers, and blindly advanced police versions of events, even contradicted by direct evidence. This also appears to be the default position of the Adams administration. Giuliani has repeatedly endorsed the violent and racist tactics of the NYPD’s Street Crime Unit, whose members were known to abuse and kill New Yorkers long before shooting unarmed Amadou Diallo 41 times. Adams proudly resurrected the unit under a new Orwellian name: Neighborhood Safety Teams.
Although Giuliani can sometimes come across as a caricature of himself, neither he nor the systems he helped build have changed much despite the mass uprisings against racist police violence and the shift in political consciousness that followed. . Many supposed opponents continue to support and replicate many of his policies, and our bipartisan punishment system still reflects Giuliani’s legacy: racist, capricious, abusive, reactionary, and dishonest.
Criticizing Giuliani’s unproven claims in a single instance may be politically expedient, but it only makes sense if backed by action to dismantle the policies he has put in place. There may be a new mayor at Gracie Mansion, but Giuliani’s ideas still rule New York.