When it comes to the television coverage of the New York mayor’s race, it is all Anthony Weiner, all the time.
Don’t get me wrong. New York voters should know that this Democratic candidate sent sexually explicit photos to women AFTER resigning from Congress for similar misbehaviour. He told his wife and the public that he’d cleaned up his act!
But the incessant speculation about how many women he contacted as “Carlos Danger” and whether or not he’s going to drop out of the race (which at this point seems inevitable) is a distraction from serious issues.
On Sunday, the only African American running for mayor gave a rousing speech on race (here’s a link) that should give both voters and pundits plenty to talk about. Seizing on the public outrage over the shooting of an unarmed black teen in Florida, Bill Thompson accused the New York Police Department of the same racial bias that led neighbourhood watchman George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. Martin was killed, Thompson insists, simply because he was black.
“Here in New York City we have institutionalised Mr Zimmerman’s suspicion with a policy that all but requires police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, and to stop them and to frisk them because of the colour of their skin,” he told a church congregation in Brooklyn.
The police department’s use of “stop and frisk” is strongly opposed in the minority community. Ninety percent of those stopped by police and physically patted down for contraband, or “frisked,” are young black and Latino men. A lawsuit filed against the NYPD by the Center for Constitutional rights alleges that the majority of these stops are based not on suspicion of wrongdoing but rather on racial profiling.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly deny that and argue that these aggressive tactics are behind the city’s declining crime rates.
Thompson isn’t a guy known for his fiery rhetoric but his speech was described as “grandiose” and “passionate” by the commentators who heard it. He had been criticised previously by the likes of minority leader Al Sharpton for not coming down hard enough on the NYPD.
Thompson says his position hasn’t changed but he was moved to clarify his objections to stop and frisk after the Martin verdict and “a jury of our peers declared the killing of an innocent black youth to not be a crime."
He still doesn’t believe in abolishing “stop and frisk.” Nor does he support bills to create an NYPD inspector general or allow people to sue over racial profiling, as many of his Democratic opponents do. Instead, Thompson told Al Jazeera, he would appoint a new police commissioner and change the way stop and frisk is implemented.
“I do not believe our government can fully stop racism, but I do believe we must constantly look to see how it may enable it, even unintentionally,” he said in his speech. “So we must ask ourselves, when fear of young black men ends in deadly violence against the innocent, has our government perpetuated that fear by targeting people of colour with suspicion?”
While the US media remains obsessed with Anthony Weiner, Thompson is poised to benefit from Weiner’s transgressions. Thompson is essentially tied for second in the polls – which show him beating front-runner Christine Quinn in a run-off. Thompson surprised everyone in 2009 when he first ran for mayor and nearly beat Bloomberg the billionaire.
Weiner had almost as much support in the black community as Thompson up until his latest scandal. Thompson may win those voters over with his passionate calls for change.
That is, if anyone is listening.