Bloomberg condemned after ‘stop and frisk’ comments resurface

In 2015 audio, Bloomberg defends policy, says US police need to be in minority neighbourhoods where ‘all the crime is’.

Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaks during the Presidential Gun Sense Forum in Des Moines, Iowa [File: Scott Morgan/Reuters]

Mike Bloomberg is under fire for resurfaced comments in which he says the way to bring down murder rates is to “put a lot of cops” in minority neighbourhoods because that’s where “all the crime is”.

The billionaire and former New York mayor made the comments at a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute, as part of an overall defence of his support for the controversial “stop and frisk” policing tactic that has been found to disproportionately affect minorities.

Bloomberg launched his Democratic presidential bid in the United States late last year with an apology for his support for the policy. On Tuesday, after the comments resurfaced, he reiterated his apology and said his 2015 remarks “do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity”.

But the audio of his Aspen speech highlights his embrace of the policy just a few years ago, and suggests he was aware of the disproportionate effects of stop and frisk on minorities. Bloomberg says in the audio that “95 percent” of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops”. To combat crime, he says, “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighbourhoods”.

In the audio, he acknowledges that focusing police forces in minority neighbourhoods means minorities are disproportionately arrested for cannabis possession, but dismisses that as a necessary consequence of the crime in those neighbourhoods. And to “get the guns out of the kids’ hands”, Bloomberg says, police must “throw ’em against the wall and frisk ’em”.

“And they say, ‘Oh, I don’t want that, I don’t wanna get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun,” he says.

According to a report in the Aspen Times that also dates from 2015, Bloomberg blocked the release of video of the Aspen Institute appearance, but the Aspen Times reporter uploaded what appears to be the full audio online, and it drew renewed attention Monday after podcaster Benjamin Dixon circulated it on Twitter.

#BloombergIsRacist trended, with many comparing him to US President Donald Trump and others calling for those who have endorsed the candidate to withdraw their support.

In his Tuesday statement, Bloomberg notes that he “inherited the practice of stop and frisk” from the previous administration, and noted that by the time he left office he significantly reduced its use. He said: “I should have done it faster and sooner.”

But stop and frisk expanded dramatically on Bloomberg’s watch, reaching a peak in 2011 when more than 685,000 people were stopped, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union. While the use of the practice declined significantly after that, Bloomberg stood by the programme even in the face of widespread criticism and legal challenges.

The former New York mayor has distanced himself from the policy since launching his presidential campaign as part of a broader strategy aimed at appealing to minority voters, who are a key voting bloc for Democrats. He’s also acknowledged his own white privilege and released policies focused on issues central to some African American communities, such as black homeownership and maternal mortality rates.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has long held an overwhelming advantage with African Americans, pointing to their support as a firewall that would provide him with a much-needed primary win in South Carolina at the end of the month. But Biden lost in Iowa and trails in New Hampshire and as his candidacy has become imperiled, recent polling suggests he has lost some African American support.

None of his Democratic rivals has yet to truly capitalise on that support, though both Bloomberg and Senator Bernie Sanders have made some inroads. Both have received a number of prominent African American endorsements and have been holding campaign events specifically aimed at the black community.

‘Extremely disturbing’

On Tuesday, Bloomberg faced sharp criticism from opponents. Businessman Tom Steyer, another Democratic presidential candidate, called the comments “extremely disturbing” and said that Bloomberg needs to provide an explanation to those who were affected by stop and frisk.

“Mike Bloomberg’s remarks in the video are extremely disturbing. The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them,” Steyer added.

Symone Sanders, a top adviser to Biden’s campaign, called the comments “sad and despicable,” and said Bloomberg “will have to answer for these comments”. Trump, who himself has supported stop-and-frisk policies, sent out a tweet with a clip of the audio declaring “Bloomberg’s a racist”.

Trump later deleted the tweet, but his campaign seized upon its argument.

Bloomberg focused the bulk of his statement about the audio on Trump, arguing the president’s attack “reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign”.

“Make no mistake, Mr President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America,” Bloomberg said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies