Weighing the relative racism of different candidates in the hopes of arriving at the choice as to who will do the least damage is nothing new to black voters. In fact, it’s a big reason why Mike Bloomberg and his bottomless coffers have been attracting black folks concerned first and foremost with ousting Donald Trump, who became president by appealing to white resentment.
But an audio recording of Bloomberg recirculating this week was a stark reminder about Bloomberg’s imperious approach to black lives. He explained that he had police officers flood black and brown neighborhoods because “that’s where all the crime is,” while also falsely asserting that “95 percent” of “murderers and murder victims” are “male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
To save the children, we had to police them, he said: “You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops,” since the way to drive down gun violence was to throw black and Latino teenagers—literal children—“against the wall and frisk 'em.”
In 2015, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was elected on a pledge to end stop-and-frisk policing, the NYPD made 22,565 stops and recorded 352 murders. That compares to a peak of 685,724 stops under Bloomberg in 2011, a year in which they recorded 515 murders. So the police stopped 30 times more people while recording nearly 50 percent more murders. So much for stopping everyone ensuring their safety.
His remarks recirculated on the same day that Quinnipiac University released a new poll showing that support for Bloomberg has surged to 22 percent among African-American likely voters, placing him second overall and just 5 points behind Joe Biden. Mayor Mike was rising on a wave of spending the country has never seen before ($38 a second and rising fast!) but that New Yorkers recognized, selling the idea of him as inevitable.
It’s not—and this is the moment for black voters to take stock of who candidate Bloomberg is, who he perceives black folks to be, and the danger therein.
For months now, Bloomberg has been asking black voters to naively believe that he had a change of heart late last year from his long-standing and full-throated defense of “stop-and-frisk”—an initiative he continued to endorse years after leaving office, and as recently as 2019. He wants black voters to look past his radical about-face, delivered in a black megachurch in Brooklyn, just a week ahead of his late entry into the crowded Democratic presidential field. He apologized again Tuesday after the video surfaced, and Trump—who’s frequently praised stop-and-frisk policing, and who always enjoys accusing his opponents of committing his sins and crimes—attacked him as “A TOTAL RACIST!"
"I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should've done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized—and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities."
That’s all misleading, after Bloomberg spent a decade in office expanding and defending stop-and-frisk policing, and continued to stand behind the practice and insist he’d saved lives with it after leaving office and even after the number of stops plummeted while the number of murders continued to fall. This racist over-policing of black and brown communities was a form of terror and low-grade warfare—and, he now concedes, it was largely ineffective.
Over the course of Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor—his last four years in office proving oligarchs can even disregard term limits—New York City police officers made 5,081,689 stops. In the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn alone, a New York Times investigation found that between January 2006 and March 2010, the number of searches “amounted to nearly one stop a year for every one of the 14,000 residents.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union noted in 2012 that “black and Latinx New Yorkers were more likely to be frisked than whites and were less likely to be found with a weapon." What’s more, the organization pointed out that “nine out of 10 people stopped were innocent.”
Each of those illegal searches caused untold public humiliation, an outcome that’s baked into the policy. One 2014 study linked aggressive policing and stop-and-frisk with anxiety and PTSD, outcomes that increased with the number of police interactions experienced.
Bloomberg shrugged all that off. "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It's exactly the reverse of what they say," he argued at one point, as noted in Gothamist’s compilation of his many outrageous defenses over the years.
“It is the parents’ job to start a stop-and-frisk in the home, to the extent that they can,” Bloomberg said at a visit to a black church in Harlem. “We in the city are doing everything we can to work with our young kids, for those who’ve fallen off the right path, to get them back on track.”
As to that 95 percent reduction Bloomberg took credit for in his latest mea culpa on Tuesday, that came only after a federal court ruled that the NYPD’s massive overuse of the tactic was unconstitutional. And the city appealed that decision, and smeared the judge as anti-cop. ("Throughout the case, we didn't believe we were getting a fair trial,” Bloomberg said after the ruling. “This decision confirms that suspicion.”) That appeal was finally dropped by the de Blasio administration, as the number of stops plummeted while the murder rate fell, too—proving that public safety doesn’t come down to Xeroxing a picture of black teens, and telling police officers to stop them for their own good.
The same poll that shows Bloomberg running second among black voters and third overall also shows that every leading Democratic candidate beating Donald Trump, and by similar margins. There will be plenty of time to unite behind the party’s standard bearer when that person goes up against Trump. Democrats can’t afford to forget the vigor with which Bloomberg defended a policy of harassment and terror against black and brown folks while choosing their standard bearer.