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Policing in drag: Giuliani goes global with the illusion of control
, Winifred Curran
Department of Geography, Syracuse University, 144 Eggers Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244, United States
Department of Geography, DePaul University, 990 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL 60614, United States
Received 20 June 2008
Received in revised form 7 August 2009
Quality of life
In 2002, Giuliani Partners was hired to implement Rudy Giuliani’s New York City strategy of ‘zero toler-
ance’, ‘quality of life’ style policing in Mexico City. As in New York City, Giuliani capitalized on residents’
fear and insecurity, but unlike in New York, he did not deliver a sense of stability and security. We argue
that Giuliani’s ideas garner high popularity not because of their success on the ground, but due to their
currency in public discourses where they produced a ‘cult of personality’ that masks the very real failures
of neoliberalism in everyday life. As such, Giuliani’s policies in Mexico City constituted a performance:
policing in drag, a dressing up of policies cloaked in the language of control, and alternatively marketed
with Giuliani’s masculinity and reputation as a ‘tough guy.’ This performance is part of the ‘making up’ of
neoliberal policy to mask as effective, comforting, logical, and inevitable a set of policy prescriptions that
has led to more insecurity, not less.
Ó2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Of the declared presidential candidates, none has appeared in
costume as often as Rudy Giuliani ...In 1997, Giuliani made an
artistic pivot. For the ﬁrst time he put on women’s clothing in
public, a trope he would return to throughout his career.
(Dickerson, 2007, p. 1)
He has demonstrated an odd propensity over the years for
publicly dressing up in women’s clothing, proof of which is
now readily available online, including a disturbing clip of
Donald Trump nuzzling the mayor’s bosom.
(Bai, 2008, p. 48)
Rudolph Giuliani has, by far, the most dubious known per-
sonal history of any major presidential candidate in Ameri-
can history, what with his three marriages and his open
affairs and his almost total estrangement from his grown
children, not to mention the startling frequency with which
he ﬁnds excuses to dress in women’s clothing.
(Baker, 2007, p. 31)
Countless articles assessing Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the
Republican nomination for president in the 2008 election in
the United States arrived at the snide ‘drag moment’ in which the
author recycled a well-trodden, yet irresistible trope. The reitera-
tion of Rudy’s drag performances in media articles became predict-
able in national coverage of 2008 presidential primaries in the
United States, until Giuliani withdrew his candidacy. In this article,
we engage drag as a way to understand the ubiquity and strategic
deployment of Giuliani’s image abroad, in spite of evidence that
the recommendations that Giuliani Partners Group sold to Mexico
in 2002, though expensive, were not much more than performance.
We come to the conclusion that zero tolerance policing, whatever
the geography, is as much about performance and perception as it
is about policing policies in practice.
For many years, local governments have pursued neoliberal
strategies premised on the notion that government functions to
facilitate for-proﬁt economic investment in the urban environ-
ment. These strategies include public–private partnerships, qual-
ity-of-life campaigns, and marketing of urban spaces for private
consumption. As cities compete globally for capital, urban govern-
ments have changed their approach from one of urban managerial-
ism to one of urban entrepreneurialism (Harvey, 1989), in which
the role of urban governments is to make the city friendly to cap-
ital investment and to sell the city globally. Cities thus reposition
themselves on the competitive landscape, ‘‘reimagining and recre-
ating urban space, not just in the eyes of the master planners and
city fathers and mothers, but primarily for the outsider, the inves-
tor, developer, businesswoman or -man, or the money packed
tourist” (Swyngedouw et al., 2002). As such, while crime is pre-
sented as the domain of the urban underclass, it is the rich who
are a major part of the problem, pushing a neoliberal agenda that
inevitably leads to more social exclusion which foments more
crime and violence (Reiner, 2005; Wacquant, 2001).
With urban strategies becoming increasingly international, it
is important to examine how this ‘one-size-ﬁts-all’ approach to
0016-7185/$ - see front matter Ó2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (A. Mountz), firstname.lastname@example.org
Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/geoforum
urban geography unfolds in distinct locations (Brenner and Theo-
dore, 2002). It is also essential to examine the marketing of these
campaigns, and in particular, the relationship between rhetoric
and reality, policy and practice. Larner (2003) calls for careful trac-
ing of the intellectual and political networks that underpin global
expansions of neoliberal ideas that manifest in government poli-
cies. To do this, we examine the case study of the performance of
Rudy Giuliani’s New York City strategy of ‘zero tolerance’, ‘quality
of life’ style policing, in which small crimes are prosecuted in order,
theoretically, to prevent larger crimes from occurring in Mexico
City (also known as the Federal District, or D.F.).
In January of 2002, immediately following completion of his sec-
ond mayoral term in New York and following his rise in international
celebrity status after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center,
Giuliani and his partners-in-crime-ﬁghting founded The Giuliani
Partners Group. Boyer (2007, p. 54) notes, ‘‘It was as if he were
now offering himself up as Mayor of the World – and the world ap-
peared ready to do business with him.” In October, 10 months later,
the Group announced a $4.3 US million contract with Mexico’s
wealthiest resident, Carlos Slim, to apply Giuliani’s home-grown
model to the streets of Mexico City, with the support of leftist mayor
(and future presidential candidate) Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
This plan met with signiﬁcant skepticism, given Mexico City’s size,
history of corruption, lack of conﬁdence in the city police depart-
ment, and distinct economic and cultural contexts, including its size-
able informal economy. In this article, we are concerned less with the
transfer of policy from one location to another (c.f. McCann, 2008),
and more with the politics of perception, cult of personality, and gen-
dered narratives surrounding its journey.
We traveled to Mexico City in the summer of 2006 to research the
enactment of this controversial plan exported from global North to
South. We found that the Giuliani Partners group capitalized on
trends in neoliberal urbanism and proﬁted from their sale, regard-
less of outcome or implementation. Research methods included
open-ended interviews with ﬁfteen participants in Mexico City,
among them small business owners, workers, and taxi drivers in
the downtown district, experts working in the ﬁeld of monitoring
policing policy, and pro-democracy non-proﬁt organizations con-
cerned with human rights. We also conducted discourse analysis
of magazine and newspaper coverage of the plan in Mexico and
the United States and conducted participant-observation in the cen-
tral business district of Mexico City where most changes in policing
actually took place.
As in New York City, Giuliani banked on residents’ fear and inse-
curity, but unlike in New York, he did not deliver a sense of stability
and security. We argue that Giuliani’s ideas garner high popularity
not because of their success on the ground, but due to their currency
in public discourses where they produced a ‘cult of personality’ that
masks the very real failures of neoliberalism in everyday life. As such,
Giuliani’s policies in Mexico City constituted a performance: polic-
ing in drag, a dressing up of policies cloaked in the language of con-
trol, and alternatively marketed with Giuliani’s masculinity and
reputation as a ‘tough guy.’ This performance is part of the ‘making
up’ of neoliberal policy, to mask as effective, comforting, logical,
and inevitable a set of policy prescriptions that has led to more inse-
curity, not less. As we explore the drag performances of neoliberal
policy, we will look not only to Giuliani’s embodiment and state-
ments, but to the iterative process where policy, security, and polic-
ing performance are woven into tropes of masculinity.
2. Policing in drag
Policing is often about performance, speciﬁcally the performance
of gender. Herbert (2001) recognizes the existence of two different
ways police ‘do’ gender: ‘hard chargers’ and ‘station queens.’ In this
conception, the ‘hard charger’ is seen as doing the real policing, thus
reinforcing the masculinity of the street and of police work, whereas
the ‘station queen’ is assumed to inhabit the more protected space of
the station. Zero tolerance plays on this masculinity, its main policy
prescription being for the police to ‘kick ass’ (Bowling, 1999, p. 548).
In this ‘tough-cop-as-expert’ style of policing, the ‘‘nature of ‘prob-
lems’ and ‘quality of life’ are deﬁned by the police not the residents”
(Herbert, 2001, pp. 65–66). Any concession to community policing or
genuine civic engagement is a threat to this masculinity. As Graef
(1990, p. 4, quoted in Herbert, 2001, p. 66) argues, ‘‘Asking street
hardened coppers, whose self-respect is deﬁned by the approval of
their peers, to take on the morality and the ethos of community
policing is like expecting them to police in drag.” The notion of drag
is relevant here precisely because of the importance of gendered per-
formances in policing and their relationship to the ‘tough’ or ‘wild’
parts of cities, as in the perception of the former Times Square in NYC.
This ‘clean up’ of Times Square relied on a practice called ‘zero
tolerance policing.’ Largely inﬂuenced by the ‘broken windows’
theory (Wilson and Kelling, 1982), zero tolerance has become a
globally-enacted policy response to urban crime. In terms of
investments of technology and human resources in policing, police
forces are encouraged to crack down on smaller, ‘quality of life’
crimes like loitering, turnstile jumping, jaywalking, excessive
honking, public drinking, and street peddling in order to prevent
the occurrence of more serious crimes. By making policing more
visible on the urban landscape, these practices generate a feeling
of security for those in the custom of looking to the police for help,
while criminalizing entire segments of the population who run
afoul of this new policing emphasis on appearance.
Giuliani himself acts the ‘tough-cop-as-expert’ on a global stage,
using his own performances of both masculinity and femininity in
drag to fuel the masquerade of meaningful urban reform. For Giu-
liani, the performance of zero tolerance is supposed to be enough
to create the illusion of control, for, as Bai (2007) comments, ‘‘to
Giuliani, the policy was the personality.” The fear, of crime, of ter-
rorism, upon which Giuliani feeds is real. The solutions he proposes
are not. Giuliani’s own drag appearances play femininity with mas-
culinity, intending to make public space appear friendly and non-
threatening to women, who are particularly trained in the art of
judging safe spaces (Whyte, 1988). Similarly, the ideas rehearsed
and executed in public played on the interplay between male
and female masculinities and femininities. For example, placing
women on display at the center of policing in the city’s center as
trafﬁc cops, as has occurred in the D.F. after Plan Giuliani, perpet-
uates and even paints a ‘friendly’ (read feminine) face on the illu-
sion of control. What he has to sell then is the aura of safety,
requiring a complex performance of both masculinity, in the form
of Robocops, who can convince the public of the long and strong
arm of the law, as well as femininity, with the proliferation in
Mexico City of female police ofﬁcers of various types.
Thus, neoliberal urban policy meets what Lisa Duggan calls ‘‘the
new neoliberal sexual politics” in which one believes in the choice
to pick, choose, perform, and play gendered identities (cited in Hal-
berstam, 2005, p. 19). Journalists played up the performative qual-
ities of Plan Giuliani, with frequent tropes of performance.
Coverage reﬂected the image of control crafted by the government
of Mexico City in conjunction with the Giuliani Group. When the
plan was announced, the City had already implemented a parallel
policing tactic in the Zona Rosa
: ‘‘street police dressed as cowboys,
The Zona Rosa, or Pink Zone, is a shopping and entertainment district of the city
that is particularly popular with tourists. It is also one of the more gay-friendly areas
of the city. Vincent Leñero described the area more cynically, as ‘‘a cheap perfume in a
fancy bottle...She’s cute but dumb; elegant but frivolous...She picks up a smattering
of English, French, Russian, and Italian at the Berlitz School just to wow the tourists
and sell them ‘Mexican curios” and little pottery idols down Génova Street” (Leñero,
1034 A. Mountz, W. Curran / Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040
complete with wide-brimmed sombreros and spurs” and ‘‘meant to
make tourists feel more at ease” (Lyden, 2002). In the Miguel Hidalgo
precinct, city police were dressing as Robocops to overcome a poor
image and lack of authority (Walker, 2002). These Robocops were
the designated ‘High Security Force.’ At $750 per month, they re-
ceived nearly double the pay of other police ofﬁcers, with extra perks
such as an extra $60 per four hours of workout time at the gym each
week. The Robocops sported special attire, but they were no joke.
Each wore $3,000 worth of extra clothing, including face shields,
leg pads, and ski masks (Walker, 2002). Amid publicity of the Roboc-
ops, local journalists asked if Giuliani himself had sent them (Walk-
er, 2002). Indeed, they represented a performance of police ofﬁcers
as capable and authoritative through costume.
Meanwhile, the real Robocop ﬁnally arrived for his two-day Jan-
uary visit ‘under the cover of darkness’ at 3:30am. He was guarded
by active members of the New York City Police Department, ten
cars, and twelve motorcycles. His entourage was exceeded in num-
ber by only the journalists with cameras following the show. Com-
ical commentators were on hand to keep things lively. One local
politician defended the expensive hiring of Giuliani by remarking
that he would hire Robocop himself, were the cartoon ﬁgure avail-
able (Quiñones, 2003). Still another resident remarked that ‘‘Jesus
Christ couldn’t clean up this city if he came down from the heav-
ens” (Iliff and Corchado, 2003).
In August, the City, led ‘‘evasively” (Friedsky, 2003, p. 4) by left-
ist Mayor López Obrador and his police chief Marcelo Ebrard an-
nounced its acceptance and full endorsement of the 146-point
plan (at least publicly). Despite the very different geographic con-
text of the D.F from New York City, the plan’s strategies reproduced
Giuliani’s aggressive approach to petty crime in New York, center-
ing on restricting vendors in the informal economy and cracking
down on minor enforcement details like trafﬁc violations. The plan
would create anti-grafﬁti and anti-noise units and implement
tougher penalties for smaller crimes. Homeless children would
be removed from public spaces.
The plan also called for revisions to the corrupt practices of po-
lice and the criminal justice system (Friedsky, 2003, p. 3). It would
use Compstat, the integrated intelligence database touted as the
technological force driving the success of zero tolerance. Compstat
facilitates the compilation of statistics in order to focus resources
and then clear crime from geographic ‘hotspots’ or problem areas
in the city. Compstat would accompany improved salaries, uni-
forms, and technologies to support police and citizens. Among
other proposed improvements were panic buttons on city buses,
closed circuit TV cameras in the metro, and extensive registries
to record data on everyone from unregistered cab drivers to car
part retailers and individuals cleaning windows on street corners
(Asian Intelligence Limited, 2003). This, despite the fact that police
stations in México City rarely have access to computers and that
crime statistics are notoriously unreliable. Thus, zero tolerance
was performed, but much of its more substantive policy prescrip-
tions never enacted due to a complete lack of infrastructure.
Judith Halberstam argues that queer time and space represent
resistance to heteronormative forces, with the transgender body
a location where these struggles transpire: ‘‘a site for fantasies of
futurity and anachronism” (2005, p. 15). After a sustained cam-
paign to shut down gay and lesbian night clubs during his tenure
as mayor, Giulani’s co-optation of gender transgression through
drag signals capitalism’s artiﬁcial attempt to co-opt queer time
and space. The advisor who encouraged him to put on dress admits
as much, saying the goal was to ‘‘soften him up, and help him get
the gay vote... And, ultimately, it was his biggest bonus, because
he got the gay vote – and the conservatives, who couldn’t believe
he had the balls to do something like that. It was a home run for
him, and he got national attention. It showed that he had a sense
of humor” (quoted in Boyer, 2007, p. 53). His drag performances
fueled ﬁxation and humor in the media because of the juxtaposi-
tion of feminized appearance with play of ‘tough’ masculinity
and policies. But as Brown notes (2000, p. 35), drawing on Butler
(1990) and Sedgwick (1993), ‘‘to focus on drag per se is misguided:
it is merely the outcome of a complex, highly abstract process (per-
formativity) on which scholarship should focus.” Giuliani co-opts
playing with notions of gender, both in New York and Mexico City,
to strengthen the masculinist state, one that denies civic engage-
ment of both men and women and as such, lessens the potential
for democracy (Herbert, 2001).
3. ‘‘Mexico City is not New York’’
This basic lesson in geography is one we heard repeatedly in
unstructured interviews conducted in the D.F, from taxi drivers
and shop owners, policy analysts and embassy personnel. The les-
son seemed largely lost on Giuliani. In ‘‘Giuliani’s Mexico City
Game”, Friedsky (2003) compares a beleaguered Mexico City with
‘sky-rocketing’ crime of 2003 with a beleaguered, crime-ridden
New York City of 1993. Giuliani himself made this comparison at
a press conference in 2003: ‘‘The similarities between what Mexico
City faces today and what New York City faced in the late ‘80s and
early ‘90s are striking” (Colangelo, 2002). He went on to say, ‘‘Sure,
there are differences between New York City and Mexico City, but
I’m not sure those differences are relevant to crime reduction.”
Indeed, precious little attention was paid by the Group to the
major differences between New York and Mexico City. Over half
of Mexico City’s twenty million residents live in poverty (Weisbrot,
2006). They are more likely than their counterparts in New York to
be unemployed and more likely to have been the victims of crime.
Between 2000 and 2004, the number of drug crime cases went
from 500 to 5000 (Evans, 2005, p. 2).
Mexico City is sized comparably to New York with a central city
of about eight million residents, yet with only two-thirds the num-
ber of police. Those police ofﬁcers earned less than one fourth of
the salaries of their New York City counterparts and operated in
an environment of corruption that transcended the various police
forces as well as the legal system (Economist, 2002). As Davis
(2006) recognizes, Mexico’s history of one party rule has led to a
legacy of corruption that has deﬁed all attempts to reform it (see
also López-Montiel, 2000). Plan Giuliani did not acknowledge the
need to strengthen the overarching legal framework in which
those who commit crime are brought to justice. The legal system,
like the police force, operates on its own scale of justice. According
to writer and social commentator Homero Aridjis, ‘‘The problem
we have in Mexico City goes far beyond any agreement between
Lopez Obrador and Giuliani. It is precisely the corruption among
judges, among prosecutors and the police. It is a grave internal
problem that allows criminals to walk free and could undermine
the entire project” (Polgreen, 2002). The plan failed to address
the corrupt bureaucracy in which crimes are addressed (Evans,
2005). Alejandro Gertz Manero, former chief of police and then
Secretary of Security under President Vicente Fox, in a speech given
in the US in 2005, stated, ‘‘We always knew that Mexican police
were not very moral. No one trusted in the police or in justice,
but the system worked” (Evans, 2005, p. 1). The mistrust of the po-
lice and legal systems in Mexico is so powerful that only 12% of
crimes are ever reported (Malkin, 2009).
When asked his opinion of the purchase of Giuliani’s policies in
2003, Gertz Manero afﬁrmed the political and public relations
imperatives of the plan in his reply: ‘‘Mr. Giuliani, he’s a politician.
He went three times to Mexico City. He saw the city; the city saw
him. The media saw him. And he said three or four logical com-
mon-sense things, and he charged $4 million, and that’s it!” (Evans,
2005, p. 3). This sentiment was echoed by our informants, who
A. Mountz, W. Curran / Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040 1035
called Giuliani’s plan, ‘‘a media thing,” ‘‘pure demagoguery.” A taxi
driver explained, ‘‘Giuliani gave two or three workshops. He did
nothing, nothing. .. He was very criticized.”
Regardless, for Giuliani, ‘‘The formula is largely the same, except
that this time Giuliani wasn’t elected. He was not hired by any
public agency or ofﬁcial” (Friedsky, 2003, p. 1). Although the con-
sulting ﬁrm was paid four million dollars for its report, responsibil-
ity ended there, a ﬁnding common in research on the neoliberal
expert who is rarely held accountable for ‘outcomes.’ Whereas Giu-
liani’s former police chief turned business partner (turned crimi-
nal) Bernard Kerik
spoke often of creating accountability within
police forces in Mexico City, and accountability was one of the cen-
tral tenets of Giuliani’s presidential run, there were no provisions for
accountability should the consulting recommendations fail. In fact,
when it was ﬁrst announced, the plan’s sponsors were anonymous,
and its price a secret (Colangelo, 2002).
Criminologist Burke (1998) argues that the implementation of
zero tolerance policies in the US and UK has been the result of pub-
lic demand. While there has certainly been a demand for a reduc-
tion of crime in Mexico City, few saw zero tolerance policing,
targeting small crimes in order to prevent bigger ones, as an effec-
tive strategy in a city that already has so many big crimes. Former
Mayor López Obrador was criticized consistently across tradition-
ally divisive party lines for his promotion of Giuliani’s plans. Critics
questioned his decision to work with foreign consultants, rather
than local experts who understood better the cultural and eco-
nomic dimensions of crime particular to Mexico (in particular,
Certain elements of Plan Giuliani have been implemented to vi-
sual effect in central city areas. We heard repeatedly that whatever
changes had occurred were geographically speciﬁc. ‘‘In certain col-
onias, on every corner there is some public or private police force.
In the more upscale neighborhoods, you feel very safe. Poor neigh-
borhoods are less safe.” Another informant remarked, ‘‘You see the
cops cruising the streets ... To me, it is an insult to my public
space.” Whereas police resources were infused into the landscape
of wealthier neighborhoods, poorer residents carried the burden
of both high crime and tough policing. Windshield cleaners were
repeatedly thrown in jail, unable to pay the $45 ﬁne that consti-
tuted a week’s pay (Tayler, 2004). Others had been sentenced to
a year in jail for stealing a bicycle. The Giuliani report found the
punishments for quality of life offenses in Mexico City to be too
soft, arguing that, ‘‘The individuals cited in these types of processes
neither respect authority nor the law due to a lack of sufﬁciently
coercive tools to effectively penalize them.” New measures gave
small-time thieves, including shoplifters and those who munch
on food while walking through the supermarket, at least six
months in prison (Guthrie, 2003).
The other visible manifestation of Plan Giuliani has been a pro-
liferation in the number and types of policing agencies, especially
for trafﬁc enforcement and tourism. The newly created Tourist Po-
lice approached tourists (ourselves included) and asked, in Eng-
lish, if they needed any assistance.
The increased number of
police and policing agencies did not necessarily mean increased
effectiveness, for as one respondent observed, these new branches
of the police ‘‘often don’t know what they [themselves] do.” The
expansion in the number of policing agents, especially in the realm
of trafﬁc enforcement, has led to the employment of more women,
who have become a more visible presence in the city center. They
are nearly invisible at the margins of the city. Residents of the
DF, like two business owners to whom we spoke, understood that,
‘‘Not much has changed but for more police in Zona Rosa, for tour-
ists, para ustedes, hablan ingles,” suggesting that the proliferation of
police were for us, for foreigners, and did little to increase residents’
sense of safety.
Indeed, this proliferation of security forces created its own
problems. Giuliani’s plan did nothing to change the fact that the
average Mexico City police ofﬁcer had only a middle school level
of education and that rookie salaries were just $300 a month.
The increasing number of police ofﬁcers also therefore increased
the opportunity for corruption and bribery, what one of our
respondents referred to as ‘‘an alternate form of income distribu-
tion.” For anyone who can afford to, this informant told us, it is eas-
ier, cheaper, and less time consuming to pay off a police ofﬁcer for
something like a trafﬁc ticket than to go through the system. In this
way, corruption operates at every level, and even, and especially,
those demanding increased protection are complicit. As one obser-
ver who works on issues of crime and security in Mexico told us,
without adequate pay, training, and beneﬁts, Plan Giuliani is just
a political manipulation of the police. As the police force becomes
larger, this man observed, reform would only become more difﬁ-
cult, with more people to monitor and no more resources with
which to do it.
So while there were some superﬁcial changes associated with
Plan Giuliani, it failed to achieve either a substantive reduction in
serious crime or an increased feeling of safety among urban resi-
dents. While overall crime rates reportedly fell 8% in the ﬁrst year
of Plan Giuliani, in the city’s historic center (an area where Carlos
Slim, who paid Giuliani, has extensive real estate holdings), crime
dropped nearly 28%. Accordingly, many remained skeptical of the
accuracy of these numbers as, citywide, kidnappings had doubled
in 2004, and homicides were down a mere half percent (Tayler,
2004). The reasons offered for the failure of Plan Giuliani ranged
from the cultural to the structural. For many of our respondents,
the failure was a result of perceived cultural differences. As one
respondent put it, ‘‘The D.F. is crazy.” One taxi driver explained
to us that Mexico needed a system of formalization and participa-
tion, such as paying taxes for street vendors. Still another argued
that the Giuliani plan would be useless because police corruption
‘‘Es lo mexicano – It’s the Mexican way ...Mexican politics are
dirty.” As one policy analyst commented, ‘‘Corruption as a social
relation is a complex thing in Mexico.” This cultural and social
explanation was echoed by a source at the US embassy, who ex-
plained, ‘‘This is Mexico. They don’t see things the way we do.” In-
deed, this observation from a highly-ranked employee charged
with security at the US embassy challenges the idea that Giuliani’s
measures would transpose easily.
There has been a longstanding reluctance to tackle the issues of
the police in Mexico, according to the director of a recently-formed
think tank devoted to the study of policing. He commented on the
The Giuliani recommendations all seem good, modern. The
problem? No discussion of the local. He came to see, but
not profoundly. Does he understand the local police culture
in Mexico? No ...It’s like a colander. Much thrown in, but
only a few [ideas] will trickle out. Which? Those that are
politically viable and affordable ...There never was a strat-
egy. They just said, ‘‘I accept them all.”
This wholesale acceptance of Plan Giuliani on the part of the gov-
ernment of Mexico City did not recognize the very substantive
infrastructural differences between New York and Mexico City. As
this expert commented,
Shortly following George Bush’s selection of Bernard Kerik to become the next
secretary of homeland security in December of 2004, allegations of ﬁnancial
mishandling, ethical violations, corruption, and links to organized crime emerged.
Federal investigations of Kerik continue to the present.
Kidnapping is a national ‘‘trauma...a crime that has become emblematic of the
country’s wave of insecurity” (Malkin, 2009) in which everyone, not only the rich, are
While these approaches tended to be professional, they were also sometimes
sexual, with one ofﬁcer offering to show us a good time around the city.
1036 A. Mountz, W. Curran / Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040
What Giuliani recommended costs a mountain of money. To
make these suggestions in a police force that doesn’t even
have computers to use? It is more of a political statement
than a technical reform. The DF has never had a plan to eval-
uate the results.
Another major difference between New York and Mexico City is in
the public perception of the police. While there are certainly com-
munities in New York who view the police with suspicion, the scale
and depth of this distrust did not compare with that of the D.F.
Changing the police culture and the image of the police is therefore
central to change, but the burden, this expert argues, cannot be
placed on the police alone:
Police focus on crime rather than transparency, accountabil-
ity, and communication ...A problem is not with the police
but with the management ...Political changes provoke a
change in the police. Crisis leads to change. Our hypothesis:
that the police cannot be changed without the help of the
police. We believe the police can change if we treat them like
human beings, with respect. Treat the police with rewards,
beneﬁts. For years, no one believed they deserved this; there
was discrimination against the police. The good news is that
there are police open to change. The bad news is [this move-
ment for change] is very small, and it is complicated.
He concludes, ‘‘Giuliani’s ideas make sense but they are rooted in
global ideas, not local ones. You can tell he didn’t study the
Problematic and controversial as it was, what is perhaps most
curious of all has been Plan Giuliani’s disappearance from public
discourse, with one very well-informed respondent commenting,
‘‘No one knows what happened to the Giuliani plan ... Security
was a main issue in the presidential debates. Obrador was attacked
for not doing anything, but Giuliani was never raised.” Manuel
López Obrador was the close second candidate in the national pres-
idential election in 2006, and large protests and accusations of
election fraud followed his loss. Yet during the heated campaign
and the close contest, no one challenged Obrador on his endorse-
ment of Giulani’s plan for the city and its subsequent disappear-
ance. Plan Giuliani became for the residents of Mexico City what
for Giuliani himself must be a worse outcome than controversial-
While it is true that Mexico City is not New York, neither is New
York the New York that is portrayed by Giuliani and his zero toler-
ance supporters. While Giuliani has long been credited with ‘clean-
ing up’ New York, the admittedly dramatic drop in crime
experienced in New York during Giuliani’s tenure can be explained
by everything from an easing of the crack epidemic and an increase
in the number of police ofﬁcers under previous Mayor David Din-
kins to the longest period of economic growth in American history
(Bowling, 1999; Greene, 1999; Karmen, 2000). As Bowling (1999)
shows, the New York strategy has been oversimpliﬁed and over-
sold, as aggressive enforcement is neither necessary nor sufﬁcient
to promote reductions in crime.
A telling aspect to Giuliani’s assumed success in New York is the
attitude of the city’s police towards him (and indeed the rest of
New York as well. Giuliani was wildly unpopular by the time he
left ofﬁce). Having been the people to actually do the work of zero
tolerance policing, the police would seem a logical constituency for
‘the World’s Mayor’. Yet in New York, the president of the police
ofﬁcers’ union declared, ‘‘The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevo-
lent Association could never support Rudy Giuliani for any elected
ofﬁce”, continuing, ‘‘Today, there are simply not enough NYPD po-
lice ofﬁcers to keep this city safe, and it is Giuliani’s fault” (quoted
in Campanile, 2007). In 1997, New York city cops were handing out
ﬂiers, resembling part of a will, which read, ‘‘‘I, ..., a New York City
police ofﬁcer, want all of my family and brother ofﬁcers who read
this to know’ that ‘in the event of my death,’ Mr. Giuliani and his
Police Commissioner should ‘be denied attendance of any memo-
rial service in my honor as their attendance would only bring dis-
grace to my memory.”’ (quoted in Greenhouse, 1997). This ire was
largely the result of three and a half years without a raise for New
York’s police, a policy police ofﬁcers referred to as ‘zeros for heroes’
Nor does the international attention to Giuliani’s persona pay
adequate attention to the negative aspects of his ‘clean up,’ namely
the surge in police brutality complaints. ‘‘Almost 70,000 people
sued the city for police abuses such as strip searching suspected
jaywalkers” (Niman, 2007). The implementation of broken win-
dows has been linked with the escalation of police brutality com-
plaints (Collins, 1998) and harassment of the poor and
populations of color (Swanson, 2007). Indeed, broken windows
can be seen as a ‘‘euphemism for ‘ﬁxing’ ‘disreputable’ people
through the use of aggressive policing,” (Bowling, 1999, p. 548).
This trend is truly dangerous in a country with an already wide-
spread distrust of the police and a less than stellar record on hu-
man rights. But, as Belina and Helms (2003, p. 1862) comment,
‘‘It is not about ‘crime,’ but about city spaces that are supposed
to function as exploitable resources in interurban competition.”
Indeed, critics argue, Giuliani’s ﬁrst purpose while in ofﬁce was
not improving the ‘quality of life,’ but fundamentally overturning
the city’s longstanding commitment to the needy. He threw people
off the welfare rolls, attempted to cut the public payroll and privat-
ize hospitals (Boyer, 2007). He tore holes in New York’s previously
generous social safety net and did so in a way that was, as one
critic put it, ‘‘petty and vindictive” (quoted in Boyer, 2007, p. 50).
He was accused by many, including the head of the ﬁre ofﬁcers’ un-
ion, of being a fascist, with one ﬁreﬁghter’s union spokesman com-
menting, ‘‘The mayor fails to realize that New York City is not a
dictatorship”, a point on which Giuliani seemed unclear, as he ar-
gued, ‘‘freedom is not a concept in which people can do anything
they want, be anything they can be. 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” (quoted in Niman, 2007). Plan Giuliani then, in both
New York and Mexico City, is about the control of the public, and
of public spaces, to serve the market. Giuliani functions not as an
ambassador of effective policing strategies but of neoliberalism.
4. Neoliberalism, security, and informality
Policing in drag proves an iteration of formalization that masks
the breadth and power of the informal economy in Mexico. Follow-
ing Chatterjee (2009), we understand informalization as the ero-
sion of organized, regular employment that then pushes workers
into unorganized economic sectors with no regulation of work con-
ditions. The ﬂourishing informal economy in Mexico City, and the
crime frequently associated with it, is the result of failed neoliberal
policies such as structural adjustment that have resulted in a for-
mal economy unable to support the urban population. Thus, the
implementation of zero tolerance policing in geographic contexts
like Mexico City requires a performance of success and centrality
for policies that are in fact failed and peripheral.
In spite of careful attention to local context documented in liter-
atures on neoliberal policy, the export of zero tolerance policing
from north to south hints at neoliberalism’s faith in a market abso-
lutism that also holds power to ignore local context. The blanket
application of neoliberal policy is evident in the work of the World
Bank and IMF and the structural adjustment policies that remade
A. Mountz, W. Curran / Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040 1037
economies and societies from Latin America to Asia. The brutality of
neoliberal policies has exacerbated uneven geographic
development. Rising socioeconomic polarization has led to the
explosion of crime in many of the countries in which these policies
have been enacted, in turn prompting a similar blanket approach
adopted to ﬁght this crime wave. Neoliberalism’s proponents show
an abiding faith and investment in the cult of personality, ‘the expert’
(Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001). Zero tolerance is one of the stock
phrases of ‘‘neoliberal newspeak” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001),
a form of cultural imperialism that generalizes the particularities
of one historical experience, thereby representing that experience
as universal. Indeed, policies like zero tolerance derive their power
to convince from the prestige of the place from which they emanate
(Bourdieu and Wacquant, 2001).
For all its globalized discourse, the way in which neoliberalism
is enacted is geographically speciﬁc and frequently contradictory, a
set of ‘‘messy actualities” rather than cohesive policies (Larner,
2000, p. 14). As Peck and Tickell (2007, p. 26) argue, neoliberalism
is an ‘‘opportunistic ideology, powerfully shaped by the crises it
purports to resolve and by the (de)regulatory dilemmas generated
by its own failures, limits, and contradictions.” Neoliberal policy
changes to suit the needs of the elite who endorse it. As such,
the work of the ‘global consultocracy’ (Saint-Martin, 2000, cited
in McCann, 2008), such as Giuliani and his ﬁrm, is central to the
transfer of a particular strategy. What is communicated by this glo-
bal consultocracy is not just individual policies themselves, but a
host of ‘truths’ that, as McCann (2008) argues ‘‘rest on the discur-
sive construction and practical mobilization of certain forms of evi-
dence that produce their own moral geographies in which cities
are portrayed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on their adoption of cer-
tain best practices.”
In policing policy, zero tolerance is seen as one of these best
practices, having become almost ‘common-sense’ in the world of
policing theory (Harcourt, 2001, cited in Herbert, 2005), so much
so that zero tolerance is as much ideology as policy (Shapiro,
1997). In a Butlerian process of iteration, each city that adopts it in-
vokes the ‘success’ of others, so that zero tolerance policing is val-
idated by the very fact of its broad discursive diffusion and
iteration, despite the questioning of its success (Wacquant,
2004). The performance of improved policing draws on the per-
formativity of successful zero tolerance policies, while simulta-
neously masking their underlying assumptions and exclusions.
Giuliani Partners, and those who hire them, present the poor
and those who work on the street as marginal to mainstream soci-
ety. Yet in Mexico City, the opposite is true. The informal economy
is central to the functioning of the city and its economy (see Cross,
1998), and everyone participates in it, from those who buy and sell
on the street to those who pay off a police ofﬁcer to avoid a trafﬁc
ticket. This was made clear to us time and again in our interviews,
with a pair of business owners explaining, ‘‘The underground,
informal economy is the real problem. It is harder to do business
with so many people not paying taxes when you have to pay rent,
electricity, taxes, etc.”
In spite of the expansion of the police, the informal economy
ﬂourished and increased opportunities for police corruption.
Respondents across social classes repeatedly articulated a feeling
of insecurity in the city. They linked these feelings of insecurity not
only to high levels of crime, but to fears about the economy. These
two anxieties were linked in our conversations with people from
every economic sector. Stories about personal safety led to discus-
sions about the growth of the informal economy, the lack of taxes
paid by those on the street, and the way in which this threatened
legitimate business owners, at the same time there is the under-
standing that for street vendors, ‘it’s this or rob’ (Tayler, 2004).
Plan Giuliani does nothing to deal with this fundamental inse-
curity. It does not attempt to deal with the causes of crime. It is
rather the performance of a strong government, capable of control-
ling unruly populations, that the neoliberal state needs to prop up
its image in a global economy. As such, it was Carlos Slim who
funded the $4.3US million purchase price of Plan Giuliani. Slim is
best known for ruling over the Telmex telecommunications empire
that was privatized some 15 years ago. He is systematic of the inse-
curity that privatization has created in Mexico. The privatization of
Telmex, upon which Slim’s fortune rests, resulted in better phone
service, yes, but also far more expensive service, with Mexicans
paying more for the phone and banking services Slim’s companies
provide than those in other, wealthier nations. Slim controls 90% of
the nation’s ﬁxed phone lines and 70% of cell phone service
(cnn.com 2007). He is now trying to monopolize space and secu-
rity, privatizing public safety by hiring Giuliani’s ﬁrm while charg-
ing monopolistic rents in his central city real estate holdings. Slim
is a major property owner in the Centro Histórico, where he has
been turning historic buildings into loft-style apartments and
where his father originally made the family fortune by investing
in real estate during the Mexican revolution a century ago. The hir-
ing of Giuliani Partners is part of the gentriﬁcation of the historic
city center, a move Slim sees partially as his responsibility, saying,
‘‘Wealth must be seen as a responsibility ... The responsibility is to
create more wealth. It’s like having an orchard; you have to give
away the fruit, but not the trees” (quoted in cnn.com, 2007).
Plan Giuliani thus serves as one way in which local forces of
oppression enact global policies to reinforce already existing geog-
raphies of exclusion (Chatterjee, 2009). It is indicative of the fact
that, as Brenner and Theodore (2002) argue, cities have become a
strategic geographical arena in which to enact projects of neoliber-
alism, the ideology celebrating a combination of neoclassical eco-
nomics, market deregulation, free trade, and supply-side
economics (Moody, 1997).
While policies like Plan Giuliani attempt, at least nominally and
publically, to deal with public security, they do nothing, as one re-
searcher told us, to deal with the issue of security of particular
groups of citizens. He argued that the complete lack of conscious-
ness about civil liberties and the undemocratic nature of the Giuli-
ani Plan combined with the proliferation of armed security forces
had led to a crisis in both public space and, indeed, the nature of
the public. Thus the new neoliberal urbanism performs in drag,
and Giuliani’s Partners have mastered its market value and the fast
subsequent retreat before the dust settles. In spite of the entrepre-
neurial and enterprising publicity pirouettes performed by the
Giuliani Group to minimize the importance of geography, the hoax
was not lost on residents of the D.F.
Despite this fundamental insecurity expressed to us by resi-
dents of Mexico City, one of the informants most optimistic about
crime in the city was the highly-ranked ofﬁcial working on security
at the US embassy. The embassy hosts a monthly meeting of the
Overseas Advisory Council (OSAC), a collection of US companies
with ofﬁces in Mexico City. The Council discusses crime trends
and the concerns of the companies, and particularly executive pro-
tection. Despite the apparent need for the existence of such a coun-
cil, this embassy employee reported that the DF had a good
reputation for business.
Indeed, the ability to do business is what Plan Giuliani is all
The environment in which this unprecedented public–private
partnership to circulate superﬁcial urban policy succeeds is not
one in which neoliberalism has succeeded, but one where it has
largely failed. As García (2006) writes, ‘crony capitalism’ has pre-
vailed over a free market economy in Mexico. Carlos Slim is now
1038 A. Mountz, W. Curran / Geoforum 40 (2009) 1033–1040
one of the wealthiest men in the world as a result of these inter-
secting processes of trade liberalization and cronyism (Mehta,
2007). The privatization of public policy was simply a logical next
step, and Rudy Giuliani, with his penchant for performance, thrust
himself onto the international stage.
The implementation of zero tolerance as a policy rests on the
image of government that zero tolerance provides, an assurance
to capital that its interests are valued and will be protected. Plan
Giuliani was more important as public spectacle than as actual pol-
icy. It was private entrepreneurialism dressed up as public policy.
Perhaps the successful sale of Giuliani’s plans signals the north’s
desire to view its own image reﬂected back from the south. But
as Rose (1996) argues with regard to masculinist epistemologies,
the mirror always bleeds; the image falls apart. The experience
of Plan Giuliani in Mexico City belies the pervasive discourse of
the hegemony of neoliberalism. Giuliani’s inability to package his
New York approach for easy international implementation shows
that contestation of neoliberal policy is both possible and
On May 7, 2007, photographer Spencer Tunick stopped his
worldwide tour in Mexico City. As is his practice in global cities,
he invited residents of the capitol to strip down for a mass photo-
graph in the zócalo
. At 18,000, Mexico City turned out his largest
crowd yet. This moment symbolized to many the city’s political out-
ing: its naked ambition to assume frontier status amid social change
in urban Latin America (NPR, 2007). The photograph offers a striking
contrast with Giuliani in drag. Whereas city residents stripped down
in the name of social change and democracy, Giuliani dressed up re-
form in drag. Mexico City defeated Plan Giuliani simply by being
Mexico City, a policy context both complicated and contested. Yet,
the failure of neoliberalism here can be interpreted as success in
terms of popular protest. Whereas protests surrounding the 2000
and 2004 presidential elections in US cities were successfully shut
down and suppressed, this was not the case in Mexico City, perhaps
because the very intractability of the issue of crime and security in
the D.F results largely from neoliberal economic policies that have
made both personal and economic insecurity a part of everyday life
for the urban residents.
On May 8, 2008, one year and one day later, assassins killed
Edgar Millán Gómez, Acting Chief of Police in Mexico City. He
was shot multiple times as he entered his home in Guerrero,
accompanied by two body guards (McKinley, 2008). Millán
Gómez was the tenth federal police ofﬁcer assassinated during
a two-month period, likely in retaliation for President Felipe Cal-
derón’s campaign to curtail corruption and the power of drug
cartels. The last man assassinated before Commander Millán
was Robert Velasco Bravo, head of the organized crime division
in the public security ministry. This retaliatory campaign by
the drug cartel suggests that Giuliani’s zero tolerance campaign
in Mexico City did little to improve the safety of either urban
residents or the enforcement authorities charged with this duty.
At the time of writing (August 2009), violence has escalated
notably in Mexican cities for a variety of reasons, from popular
protest in Oaxaca in the south, to drug wars in border cities of
the north, again underscoring the importance of analyzing urban
conﬂict and performances around policing.
We are grateful to editor Katie Willis, anonymous reviewers,
as well as Richard Wright, Steve Herbert, and Jan Cohen-Cruz
for their constructive readings of earlier versions of this paper.
We are also thankful to participants in Mexico City who shared
their time and insights. Our thanks to the Department of Geog-
raphy at Syracuse University and DePaul University for support
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