The Intercept - February 11, 2020
"The billionaire executive’s largesse, however, can’t conceal Bloomberg’s own words defending the racial bias in his approach to law enforcement. The Aspen Institute comments in 2015 were among many instances in which he defended the program. In 2013, during a radio program, Bloomberg declared, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”
DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL Michael Bloomberg has been facing mounting online criticism over his mayoral record on stop and frisk, a tactic used by the New York Police Department in what critics — and, eventually, a federal judge — said was a biased manner. This week, a five-year-old recording emerged of Bloomberg obliquely defending the program. In response, the Bloomberg campaign released a statement on Tuesday misleadingly claiming that he simply inherited the policy and later reduced the practice.
“I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused,” he said in a statement posted on his presidential campaign website. “By the time I left office,” the statement continued, “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.”
The statement drew immediate backlash over its twisting of history. In 2001, New York City maintained an aggressive program of stopping and searching people throughout the city, with an overwhelming focus on young African American and Latino men. But, under the Bloomberg administration, the program vastly expanded, from around 97,296 stops in 2002 to a height of 685,724 in 2011 — a more than seven-fold increase during the former mayor’s tenure.
Far from changing course over the mayor’s focus on “racial equity,” as he has since claimed, the practice was clawed back by several lawsuits that charged that the law enforcement program violated the basic constitutional rights of residents. U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, in a scathing decision, noted that over the course of 2.3 million frisks, weapons were found only 1.5 percent of the time. The decision pointed out that over half of the stops included African Americans, and about third Latino, with less than 10 percent targeting whites.
The Bloomberg administration fought alongside New York’s notoriously aggressive police union to continue the program, arguing that the stop-and-frisk effort was focused on suspects with “Furtive Movements,” in “High Crime Areas” and those with a “Suspicious Bulge.” But the judge knocked down those assertions, noting that such claims are vague and subjective.
IN THE COMMENTS that circulated online this week, Bloomberg can be heard speaking at an Aspen Institute conference in 2015 defending the program’s racial slant as justifiable given the proportion of crime in African American and Latino communities. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” said the billionaire former mayor. “They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
While data does reflect that violent crime tends to cluster in particular neighborhoods and among young men, the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk program went well beyond targeting based solely on objective evidence. Expert testimony in federal court found that the New York Police Department carried out far more stop and frisks on African American and Latino residents even when controlling for precinct-level crime statistics and socioeconomic characteristics. In other words, the evidence showed that minorities were targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of suspicion than white people. ...
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