Giuliani's art police
by Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
(Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics)
Every day more and more New Yorkers recognize the serious threat Mayor Giuliani and `Giuliani-ism' represents to freedom. Unfortunately, criticism of the Mayor focuses on his personality, as if his repressive policies were simply the result of a psychological trait. What few New Yorkers grasp is the key role an obscure City agency plays in carrying out the Giuliani agenda. If not for the efforts of the more than 600 lawyers working for the Corporation Counsel, Giuliani's violations of our rights would be impossible.
Giuliani commands an army of 38,000 heavily-armed police (the world's largest police force) but it is the Corporation Counsel's 600 lawyers quietly working behind the scenes that are his elite troops. What do Giuliani's lawyers do to earn their tax-funded salaries? They defend the Mayor against thousands of legitimate civil rights lawsuits filed each year by victims of his ever-evolving police state.
Civil rights lawsuits filed against the Mayor are about much more than getting money. If plaintiffs win these cases not only do they receive compensation for their damages but the City can be forced to change its illegal policies. Keeping judges from stopping Giuliani's daily human rights violations of Federal, State and New York City law is what the Corporation Counsel is all about.
When Giuliani orders the NYPD or other City agencies to prevent lawful demonstrations, arrest innocent people, spy on political activists, close legitimate businesses, target racial minorities, sell public property to corporations, privatize parks, close public hospitals in minority areas, arrest homeless people, block access to City Hall, cut essential social programs, confiscate property without due process, put defendants through the system for non-criminal infractions of obscure laws or force handicapped mothers into workfare it is the Corporation Counsel that faithfully defends these highlights of Giuliani-ism in Federal and State Court.
To defend such unconstitutional policies the Corporation Counsel submits false evidence to judges and obscures the facts in each case. The agency is set up to frustrate any attempt to seek legal recourse when one is victimized by the Mayor or his henchmen. If a plaintiff sues Giuliani and wins, the Corporation Counsel appeals to the highest court possible, regardless of the merits of the case. This is done to exhaust the plaintiffs who are usually poor and can neither economically nor emotionally survive the process. Many lawsuits against the City disappear as plaintiffs and attorneys give up when faced with years of meaningless appeals and legal maneuvers the sole purpose of which is to wear them down.
It's not unknown for the City to compromise, pressure or buy off a plaintiffs' attorney as an additional means of defeating lawsuits. Fighting Giuliani is a risky job for any New York City attorney. The banks, multi-national corporations and real estate interests that paid to put Giuliani in office are the main employers of the City's tens of thousands of lawyers. Getting on their blacklist is as close to being unemployable as a lawyer can get.
It's useful to examine a well-publicized and fully documented case* as an illustration of exactly how the Corporation Counsel does its dirty work. When Giuliani took office in 1994 the police began a massive campaign to arrest street artists. This was done at the request of Manhattan's five largest Business Improvement Districts or B.I.D.s. These privatization interests see First Amendment protected activities on public sidewalks as quality of life crimes interfering with the absolute control of public and private space that is their goal. From 1994 to 1997 hundreds of artists were arrested. Their art was illegally confiscated or destroyed, and the artists were charged with unlicensed vending. Unfortunately for the Mayor there is a legal problem with this as there is with many of his actions. The Federal and New York State Constitution's guarantee of free speech which the U.S. Supreme Court and N.Y.C. officials had already determined to cover art, meant artists, like bookvendors, did not need a license to sell fine art on public property. Internal memos from the Corporation Counsel and the Manhattan District Attorney's offices dated 1994 make it clear that the City knew these were illegal arrests and had officially determined from the beginning of the policy to never prosecute them. As a result, despite more than 700 artist arrests not one case has ever been brought to trial. Nevertheless, the Corporation Counsel strenuously fought the First Amendment Federal lawsuit artists brought in 1994 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Giuliani decisively lost in 1997.
The Corporation Counsel's office lied to all of the judges in the case about basic facts concerning artist arrests. They wasted millions of tax dollars on a policy they knew was illegal and would be ruled unconstitutional in Federal Court. The Corporation Counsel's office has unceasingly continued its efforts to eliminate street artists' since Giuliani lost the case. From 1997 to the present they have illegally helped the B.I.D.s write a new vending ordinance in order to get around the legal "obstacle" of First Amendment rights. They've advised the Parks Department to violate the Federal Court's ruling that requiring a permit or license for artists was unconstitutional by creating a permit for artists in City Parks. Almost two years after they lost the street artist case the Corporation Counsel has not compensated artists for the thousands of works of fine art illegally confiscated and destroyed or for the false arrests. Under the legal guidance of the Corporation Counsel street artists continue to be arrested. False arrests of the most outspoken artist/plaintiffs have dramatically increased since they won the lawsuit.
In March 1998* artists filed a second lawsuit focusing on the blatant 14th Amendment Equal Protection violations inherent in creating a Parks' artist permit while allowing books and newspapers to be sold without a Parks' permit. Again the Corporation Counsel lied to a Federal judge claiming that the City did not allow book vendors to sell within 350 feet of any City park and that police arrested book vendors who did not have a permit. Book and newspaper vendors sell near N.Y.C. parks in hundreds of locations without police interference. There is no book or newspaper vendor permit nor could there legally be. Since 1982 bookvendors have been exempted by N.Y.C. City law from needing any license or permit.
Without the efforts of the Corporation Counsel these artist arrests would have been impossible. Multiply this one example a thousand times and you'll understand how crucial the Corporation Counsel is to fulfilling the repressive social goals of Giuliani-ism.
Every time a racist cop brutalizes a minority teenager and gets away with it you are seeing the result of the efforts of the N.Y.C. Corporation Counsel. When understaffed City hospitals cause someone's death due to Giuliani's budget cuts you are seeing the efforts of the Corporation Counsel. When law abiding demonstrators are arrested to censor their anti-Giuliani speech you are seeing the efforts of the Corporation Counsel. When innocent people are strip-searched, brutalized, held for days in the Tombs and then dragged through months of meaningless court appearances, you are seeing the efforts of the Corporation Counsel.
It was the Corporation Counsel that wasted millions suing New York Magazine in an absurd attempt to censor a mildly satirical bus ad that annoyed the Mayor. It was the Corporation Counsel that spent millions of tax dollars evicting adult businesses from Midtown Manhattan so that Giuliani-connected real estate developers could seize their buildings to make way for the Disnification of Times Square. It's the Corporation Counsel that protects the Giuliani Administration when it violates open meeting laws at CUNY or before the Taxi and Limousine Commission, cuts funding to Legal Aid, creates an illegal Charter Revision Committee or bulldozes community gardens and evicts low-income tenants to hasten gentrification. Just as the Mafia has a phalanx of highly skilled lawyers protecting it from the law, the Corporation Counsel keeps Giuliani from being held accountable for his many crimes.
Federal and State judges presiding in New York City courts are fully aware of the routine contempt for law exhibited by the Corporation Counsel. Under Giuliani the discovery process, in which the City is legally required to turn over every piece of evidence applicable to a lawsuit, has become a cruel farce. Recently, 2nd circuit Federal Judge John S. Martin ruled that the City had shown "utter disregard and apparent disdain" for his orders in a civil rights suit and ordered the city to pay $19,800 in sanctions. The judge wrote that he had seen a pattern in such cases in which City officials treated court orders with contempt [NYTIMES 9/30/98 "Judge Fines City $19,800 for Ignoring Orders"]. Getting any documents from the City takes years of hearings, subpoenas and expense, calculated to bankrupt all but the best-funded plaintiffs and frustrate their lawsuits. Most incriminating documents are never turned over by the City at all.
While Giuliani's repressive policies deceptively masquerading as a "quality of life" quest may seem relatively benign if compared to a police state like Nazi Germany there are instructive parallels between the early reign of Hitler and Giuliani's agenda. When Hitler was elected German Chancellor in 1933 he ordered repressive new laws aimed at eliminating "undesirables" and "protecting public safety". "Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; warrants for house searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed" [from Hitler's, Decree For The Protection of the People and the State, 1933]. Hitler's 1937 Civil Service Law, called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for political unreliability. "The law and the will of the Fuhrer are one". Corporate interests fully supported Hitler's actions and actually sponsored many of them. Initially, many Germans were as delighted with the results as some New Yorkers are with Giuliani's "accomplishments". Eventually, the contempt for law, human rights and freedom that were characteristic of Hitler's laws, made the Holocaust possible.
People think of jack-booted SS men, concentration camps and marching armies when considering the horrors of Nazi Germany. Few recall the significant role German judges and lawyers played in transforming Germany from a democracy where citizens enjoyed the same rights we take for granted in the U.S., into a fully- fledged police state where rights, even for blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryans, were non-existent. German judges and lawyers that dared to criticize Hitler or rule against him in lawsuits were among the first people sent to concentration camps. It's certain that the attorneys and bureaucrats in the Corporation Counsel will respond to this leaflet by saying they are decent people just doing their job. Isn't that exactly what the lawyers, judges and executioners that worked for Hitler said in their own defense during the Nuremberg trials?
During 1998 President Clinton has been publicly humiliated for lying under oath about a private sexual relationship and now faces impeachment. During that same time Mayor Giuliani and his lawyers in the Corporation Counsel lied to the media, to Federal, State and New York City judges, to the City Council, to Criminal and Civil juries and to the people of New York City on thousands of occasions involving the most important issues of public policy and law. Perhaps that's why despite criss-crossing the country to campaign for right-wing Republicans, Giuliani, a man not known for verbal restraint, has been loath to accuse the President or even to mention lying, adultery or impeachment.
Among the opportunistic career moves Giuliani is now positioning himself for are U.S. President, or U.S. Attorney General. Imagine the damage to the Bill of Rights that could be done were he to have the power to appoint Supreme Court judges, interpret U.S. law or command our armed forces. If we sincerely want to eliminate crime and improve the quality of life for every New Yorker two things above all others must be done. Investigate the Corporation Counsel and Impeach Rudolph Giuliani.
Comments? Robert Lederman, President of A.R.T.I.S.T.
(Artists' Response To Illegal State Tactics) (718) 369-2111
e mail ARTISTpres@aol.com
*[Bery et al v. City of New York; Lederman et al v. City of New York; Lederman et al v Giuliani] For extensive material on this issue: http://www.openair.org/alerts/artist/nyc.html
N.Y.C. Corporation Counsel, Michael D. Hess (212) 788-0303
Mayor Giuliani's press office (212) 788-2958 [fax 788-2975]
"Freedom is about authority. Freedom is about the willingness of every single human being to cede to lawful authority a great deal of discretion about what you do and how you do it." -Mayor Giuliani, New York Newsday pg A3 4/20/98
"State authority must provide for peace and order, and peace and order in turn must conversely make possible the existence of state authority. Within these two poles all life must now revolve...Ideas of 'freedom,' mostly of a misunderstood nature, inject themselves into the state conceptions of these circles". -Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf