And on the front where issues of crime and race met, and in many cases were conflated, one could argue that the mood in the city was just as bad, if not worse.
The city had just come off the arrests of the Central Park Five, and Donald Trump’s full-page newspaper ad calling for New York State to adopt the death penalty after the attack. In that ad, Trump also wrote: “Let our politicians give back our police department’s power to keep us safe. Unshackle them from the constant chant of ‘police brutality.’” All five suspects would be wrongly convicted while Dinkins was in office.
It was after George H.W. Bush won election in 1988 on an anti-crime campaign in which he cited the death of an N.Y.P.D. officer, Edward Byrne, who had been ambushed and killed by a drug gang. Crack had exploded onto the scene in cities across the country. The pump was being primed for unleashing law enforcement to crack down in the city, whatever the cost.
Even the departing Democratic mayor, Ed Koch, would say in 1989, speaking of Byrne’s killing and the killings of other officers, “The pendulum protecting those who violate the law has swung too far.”
Adding to this were the Crown Heights riots of 1991, in which Black residents and Orthodox Jewish residents collided, and Bill Clinton, running for president, attacking Black N.Y.C. rapper Sister Souljah during Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition conference, remarks that opened a public dispute with Jackson, which in fact helped Clinton, as he knew it would.
Dinkins tried to institute some police reforms, but the police rebelled. As The New York Times reported in 1992, more than 10,000 off-duty police officers gathered at City Hall to protest. Then the rioting began: “A handful of people, then hundreds, then thousands, broke through police barricades and surged onto City Hall’s steps. From there, the protest degenerated into a beer-swilling, traffic-snarling, epithet-hurling melee that stretched from the Brooklyn Bridge to Murray Street, where several politicians helped stoke the emotional fires.”
Rudy Giuliani, then running to unseat Dinkins, was at the protest, leading the crowd in chants, and as The Times reported, offering “a rousing condemnation of Mayor Dinkins’s treatment of police issues.”