Michael Bloomberg’s Polite Authoritarianism

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Duane Townsend

New Republic - February 13, 2020

"Bloomberg said and did all these things because he is an authoritarian. He has explicitly argued that “our interpretation of the Constitution” will have to change to give citizens less privacy and the police more power to search and spy on them. In fact, he does not seem to believe that certain people have innate civil rights that the state must respect. If the NYPD wanted to spy on Muslims, even if they lived outside New York City, solely because of their religion or ethnicity, Michael Bloomberg thought it was a great idea. And as Jack Shafer recently pointed out, his dedication to ensuring submission began before he was an elected official—when he was the boss at a company notorious for its tyrannical treatment of employees."

Over the course of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City, the New York Police Department arrested nearly 2,000 people at protests. The mass arrests were indiscriminate. Bystanders and journalists were among those hauled to a filthy bus depot terminal that served as a makeshift holding pen.

Hundreds of people were charged with minor crimes so that they could be kept in jail for the duration of the convention. A judge held the city in contempt of court for failing to abide by a state policy that gives people in jail the right to see a judge or be released within 24 hours. And the city lied about how long it took to process the fingerprints of its detainees. In the end, no serious charges were brought against anyone, because the entire point was to keep people off the streets while Bush and his friends enjoyed their parties, and to dissuade others from attempting any further disruption.

Even then, it was clear that the arrests were illegal. They were, as the civil rights attorney Norman Siegel put it at the time, “preventative detention.” The cops knew it, the city’s lawyers knew it even as they denied it, and the mayor knew it. I remember all this because I was there. I probably avoided arrest out of happenstance more than anything else. But most of the people who would go on to elect Michael Bloomberg to another two terms as mayor of New York City have probably forgotten the entire episode, because, like the mayor, they never really cared.

It took 10 years for the city to settle what the New York Civil Liberties Union described as “the largest protest settlement in history.” Bloomberg had been out of office for a few weeks when the settlement was announced. In his final term, he had used similar tactics against Occupy Wall Street.

Occupy and the 2004 RNC were special events, which, to Bloomberg and his defenders, justified the bulldozing of civil liberties. But his entire mayoralty was defined less by these mass displays of authoritarian force than by the everyday abuses his police committed against millions of New Yorkers of color as part of his police department’s stop-and-frisk policy. The NYCLU reports that the NYPD made more than five million “stops” during Bloomberg’s 12 years in office. The overwhelming majority of those targeted were black or Latino.

When a federal judge finally ruled the NYPD’s tactics unconstitutional, Bloomberg essentially threw a tantrum, accusing her of being anti-cop and insinuating that she would have blood on her hands once the murder rate crawled back up. (The bad old days will return if we ever take our foot off the necks of black New Yorkers is a common refrain in New York politics, and it’s one Bloomberg was happy to endorse while campaigning for his third term alongside his predecessor, one Rudy Giuliani.) ...
Read full report at New Republic

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