Bloomberg's 'stop and frisk' record should make voters stop and think

Bloomberg's 'stop and frisk' record should make voters stop and think
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The upcoming election is an opportunity to reverse the damage of the divisive Trump presidency — a presidency that began with promises to return a country with a history of slavery and Jim Crow to some imagined greater heyday. Yet, some of the candidates that remain in the Democratic field have particularly troubling histories with communities of color. They have failed to develop a racial justice analysis that addresses the persistent and historically rooted racial discrimination in this country. 

Black people should be particularly alarmed by Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy, despite his visits to black churches and disingenuous apologies. Bloomberg’s re-released comments about his “stop and frisk” program, which racially profiled minorities, are not a deviation from how he spoke about black and Latinx people throughout his time as mayor of New York City.

Mike Bloomberg frequently defended a stop-and-frisk program that led to more than 5 million stops while he was mayor, with annual stops going from 97,296 in 2002 to 685,724 in 2011. Of those stopped and also frisked, officers found a weapon in only 2 percent of stops; guns were found in less than .2 percent of stops. An astounding 87 percent of those stopped were black or Latinx, in a city where this population comprised 52 percent of the total population. Young black men between the ages of 14 and 24 were stopped 106 percent of the time, meaning that there were more stops of young black men than the entire population of young black men in the city.

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As a native New Yorker, I have witnessed police stop many young black and brown people pursuant to Mayor Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk program. I have been stopped.

When you’re stopped, the encounter can feel disrespectful and hostile. Police officers question you and search your belongings. They touch your body and feel your exterior. The stop is a physical, bodily invasion. There can also be verbal and emotional abuse during these stops. There are many recorded encounters of police insulting young black and Latinx people during stop-and-frisks, with one officer referring to a young Latinx man as a “fucking mutt.” Over time, the community may start to view policing as a form of hostile surveillance.

Thankfully, the Center for Constitutional Rights successfully sued the City of New York to end the program. A federal judge determined that the policy was unconstitutional because it permitted the suspicionless stop of thousands of black and Latinx people in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The stops were also deemed unconstitutional because they were racially discriminatory and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

When this lawsuit was filed, Mike Bloomberg did not respond by expressing concern that one of his policies violated many young black and brown people’s constitutional rights. In response to the lawsuit, he said, “the NYPD is under attack,” playing into a harmful narrative of police fragility in response to calls for accountability.

Bloomberg claimed that despite the alarming statistics, “we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union indicates that whites comprised 10.3 percent of people stopped. Nevertheless, Bloomberg incited fear, an effective tactic for justifying repressive policies, and warned that that advocates should, “Stop playing politics with public safety.”

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Apparently the call to respect these black and brown bodies and lives were “playing politics” to him. This statement is ironic as he plays politics in an attempt to erase this record. 

Bloomberg did not express remorse at the time, despite the tireless advocacy, research and public education on the issue. He responded by being defiant. In a 2012 speech to a Brownsville church, Bloomberg acknowledged that “there are some who would say that we stop too many black and Hispanic men.” He then justified the practice by stating “most of the violence in our city happens in communities like this one.” These comments are remarkably similar to the unearthed commentary that is now the subject of much public scrutiny.

The constitutional rights of the thousands of black people who experienced multiple physical invasions and unwanted touching were irrelevant to Mike Bloomberg. The ability for young black people to go to church, school and work without feeling like they live in a police state did not matter to him. He did not care about these day-to-day violations and the psychic trauma of being treated like what Justice Sonia Sotomoyor has described as a “subject of a carceral state, just waiting to be catalogued.” Bloomberg defended the policy as recently as January 2019.

Bloomberg’s most recent apology, realizing he needs black voters to win the Democratic primary, was not even a real apology. It merely acknowledged that the policy was not effective and that crime continued to decrease in New York despite the end of the program. He did not indicate that black lives matter enough to respect their integrity despite a program’s ineffectiveness or effectiveness. Nor did he say that we should respect black people’s human rights because they are in fact humans.

The recent audio is not an aberration. It is more of the same. If he has a record of willingly throwing black lives under the bus in the name of an ineffective and unconstitutional policing program, what would he do if it becomes politically expedient to throw black people under the bus as president? 

Isy India Thusi is an associate professor of law at California Western School of Law, where she teaches criminal procedure and critical race theory. She is also a legal fellow at The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab.