Rudy Giuliani: divisive New York past has many in fear of Trump cabinet post

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He was hailed as Americas mayor after 9/11, but black residents who remember his time in New York believe his record of fueling racial tensions should disqualify him from serving as the USs top diplomat

Rudy Giuliani may soon be the first western diplomat of the modern era to have stoked a racist police riot.

The former New York mayor has shamelessly promoted himself as a key member of the Donald Trump administration first as a potential attorney general, then openly touting himself to become secretary of state.

But Giulianis one-man campaign is already facing a backlash including from a Republican senator who said several of his colleagues believe Giuliani is unsuited to a key cabinet position.

Black residents who remember his time in New York with dismay believe his divisive record should disqualify him as the USs chief diplomat.

Giulianis approach to policing created an environment of terror for communities of color, said Lumumba Bandele, a lifelong New Yorker and police reform advocate. If he takes on a national role, We should all be preparing for worst-case scenarios, he said.

His record on police abuses and freedom of expression is frightening, said Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

In the wake of September 11, Giuliani was seen as a uniter, hailed as Americas mayor and a trustworthy leader for all New Yorkers. But Giuliani has a fraught history with New Yorks black and brown residents. For decades, he has defended police killings and abuse of black men and fueled racial divisions.

Giuliani set the tone for his mayoralty before his election, on a hot summer morning in September 1992. The largely white New York City police force was angry with the citys first black mayor, David Dinkins. Dinkins had proposed removing police representatives from a board that hears complaints about police brutality, a position unacceptable to the police and its powerful union.

A protest march by 10,000 off-duty police officers blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge as uniformed officers stood aside. By the time it reached City Hall Park, it had taken an angry turn. Officers chanting Dinkins Must Go! pushed through the barricades and climbed the municipal steps. The New York Times described it as a beer-swilling, traffic-snarling, epithet-hurling melee. Newsday compared city hall to an embassy in some far-off hostile land under siege.

The signs the police waved labeled the mayor a washroom attendant, claimed he was on crack said his true color [was] yellow bellied and asked if he had hugged a drug dealer that day. A subsequent official NYPD report, which recommended discipline for 42 officers and called the march an embarrassment, conceded some protesters used racial slurs and said the rally was unruly, mean-spirited and perhaps criminal.

Nearby, Giuliani, the man whom Dinkins beat in the 1989 election and who was waiting for a rematch, waited to address the crowd. Channeling its momentum, Giuliani addressed Dinkins policies by chanting Bullshit! He laid the low morale of the NYPD at Dinkins feet. The police, returning the sentiment, chanted: Rudy, Rudy, Rudy.

Giuliani would later say he had attempted to calm the fury of the protesters and that he had tried to move them away from city hall. He did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday through his spokeswoman, Jo Ann Zafonte. The New York Times reported at the time that, during the city hall protest, at least one Giuliani supporter circulated through the crowd handing out voter registration cards.

A recently elected city councilwoman from Flatbush, Brooklyn, attempted to cross the barricades. I try to forget the police riot at city hall, Una Clarke told the Guardian this week.

But 24 years later, she remembers clearly what the white officers who blocked her path said to one another when she explained she was a councilwoman on her way to a meeting: One guy looked at the other and he said: This nigger is a council member, do you believe her? And I was stunned and taken off by it. Because Im a Jamaican, frankly, I decided I was not going into my pocketbook to give him an ID.

In Giulianis opinion, he was not the one playing incendiary racial politics in a confrontation with his political rival. The mayor plays the racial card when he thinks it is to his advantage and then he condemns other people when he believes theyre doing it and that is very phony, Giuliani said afterwards. He would later suggest that outrage at police officers using racial slurs against city officials was a distraction.

The real question is, has the relatively minor occurrence of racial epithets, if they occurred at all, been made the major focus of this rally for political purposes? he said in late September 1992.

Clarke remembered Giuliani telling her that she made up her encounter with police during the riot. Rudy Giuliani said I was lying, she said.

As mayor, Clarke continued, he played every ethnic group against every ethnic group. For me, racially, hes not changed.

At the time, Dinkins chief political aide compared Giuliani to the Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, accusing him of trying to flame racial tensions rather than try to bring people together, and then make excuses about it. Dinkins walked back the comparison on 23 September but kept the pressure on Giuliani, reminding the New York Times of the kinds of comments that Rudy Giuliani made out here with a mob of police, drinking beer, behaving in an unruly fashion, and then egging them on.

The city hall riot was the most dramatic episode in a long career marked by tension over police violence towards Americans of color and Giulianis fierce defense of police officers and law enforcement.Patrick Lynch, the current president of New York Citys police union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Giulianis record as an advocate for law enforcement.

Bandele, an activist with Communities United for Police Reform, said that the riot set the tone for Giulianis eight years as mayor, from 1994 to 2001.

In our communities, folks knew him for what he was. His nickname was Adolf Giuliani, so that gives you a sense of how people saw him. In communities of color, in LGBT communities, in immigrant communities, his presence was unwelcome and we were glad to see him go, Bandele, a lifelong New York City resident said.

The idea of Giuliani becoming the secretary of state, thats frightening and its also really clear about the direction that Trump is going in, said Cullors, the Black Lives Matter co-founder. Giuliani represents the old: an archaic system that systematically devalues black life.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani gestures at a New York city hall news conference in 1996. Photograph: Ed Bailey/AP

From the start of his mayoralty in 1994, Giuliani signaled dismissiveness to the citys black leadership. After longtime Harlem congressman Charles Rangel claimed that year Giuliani was not reaching out to black New York, the first-year mayor suggested black New Yorkers needed to watch their mouths.

I want to reach out to all of the communities in the city. It has to be a two-way street. And theyre going to have to learn how to discipline themselves in the way in which they speak also, Giuliani said.

In the summer of 1997, after an altercation at a nightclub, four Flatbush police officers beat and sodomized a Haitian immigrant in the 70th precinct house. The broomhandle officers forced into Abner Louimas rectum tore his colon and perforated his bladder. Louima claimed, and later retracted, that the police torturing him told him: Its Giuliani time.

The invented quote became a slogan for Giulianis opposition. Taking on a life of its own, it became a shorthand to describe the brutality of the Giuliani era, from actual police violence against black New Yorkers to the dismissive tone the mayor took with his critics. As soon as Giuliani handily won re-election and Louima recanted the comment, Giuliani said his critics owe the people of the city an apology.

One of those critics was Dinkins, who retorted that Giuliani had missed the point. The problem is not what was said but what was done. The mayor continues to insist that only police officers can investigate police officers, Dinkins said.

In 1999, Bronx police officers, apparently carrying out a stop-and-frisk, shot and killed immigrant Amadou Diallo in his apartment building vestibule. The officers shot at Diallo 41 times after he reached for his wallet to show ID. The killing attracted national attention right as Giuliani was nurturing national political ambitions. He called it unfortunate but pleaded that the police should be given the benefit of the doubt.

The Rev Al Sharpton, left, shows a picture of Amadou Diallo during a press conference in Harlem in 1999. Photograph: Mitch Jacobson/AP

The officers who killed Diallo were acquitted. Giuliani told the Today show that the Diallo killing does not reflect the overall record of the New York police department. Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about Diallo and defiantly performed it at Madison Square Garden amid police protest. Giuliani criticized Springsteen for the song, as he would later criticize Beyonc for her songs and performances referencing police violence.

The next year, on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, an undercover cop solicited a man named Patrick Dorismond for a drug sale. A fracas ensued, and a different officer shot Dorismond dead.

The mayor began by unsealing Dorismonds police record, to include his juvenile file. The formerly secret documents shed no light on what happened on Eighth Avenue that night. But Giuliani harnessed innuendo, infamously saying Dorismond isnt an altar boy.

As it happened, Dorismond literally was an altar boy. When this was pointed out to Giuliani, he said: I think thats not a correct juxtaposition of statements, nor intended for any kind of decent or useful purpose. It would take until May for Giuliani to concede he had made a mistake.

Fourteen years later, when the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson inspired a nationwide movement against police violence, Giuliani re-emerged as a defender of law enforcement, and a critic of black protesters, whom he deemed racist.

Giuliani used his record on fighting violence in New York City to add luster to an old conservative talking point: that black Americans were wrong to protest about state violence by police officers because a larger percentage of murders were caused by black men killing other black men.

Ninety-three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks. I would like to see the attention paid to that that you are paying to this, Giuliani said in widely criticized remarks on Meet the Press in November 2014, an exchange one New York City reporter dubbed vintage Giuliani.

White police officers wouldnt be there [in black neighborhoods] if you werent killing each other, Giuliani went on to tell Michael Eric Dyson, a black Georgetown professor on the show with him.

This is a defense mechanism of white supremacy at work in your mind, sir, Dyson told him.