Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg’s defense of “stop and frisk” police tactics disproportionately targeting young people of color was brought back to light after audio from a 2015 speech found new life on social media five years later:
Bloomberg had video of speech blocked.
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) February 10, 2020
The audio was taken from Bloomberg’s February 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute. In it, the former New York City mayor can be heard saying:
Ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city in America. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed. So you want to spend the money on a lot of cops in the streets. Put those cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.
So one of the unintended consequences is people say, “Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.” Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them… And then they start, “Oh I don’t want to get caught.” So they don’t bring the gun. They still have a gun, but they leave it at home.
The audio was originally posted on YouTube by journalist Karl Herchenroeder shortly after Bloomberg’s appearance for the institute on February 10 2015. Herchenroeder also reported at the time that the Aspen Institute and GrassRoots TV, the group that filmed Bloomberg’s speech, honored his request not to release the footage of his remarks. NPR reported in February 2020 that the far-right Daily Caller blog also posted audio of the speech.
“At this point, I think it’s beyond reasonable to respectfully call on all of the people who endorsed @MikeBloomberg to retract those endorsements,” Dixon later wrote.
About 90 minutes after Dixon’s post, another Twitter user posted footage of Bloomberg defending “stop and frisk” — the practice of detaining and questioning people based on “reasonable suspicion” — in a June 2013 interview with WOR-AM in New York City. Bloomberg said at the time:
One newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, “Oh it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group.” That may be, but it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the [crime]. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying. I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course. Or a logic course.
Mike Bloomberg defending Stop-and-Frisk in 2013: “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.” pic.twitter.com/KpdKgUALsL
— ً (@upmtn) February 11, 2020
At the time, a reported 87 percent of around 5 million police interactions in the city invoking “stop and frisk” involved Black or Latinx people. According to a March 2019 report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, 66 percent of overall stops conducted under the program resulted in the detainee being frisked, but 93 percent of people frisked did not have a weapon. In August 2013, federal Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that “stop and frisk” was unconstitutional and that Bloomberg’s administration “turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner.” At the time, Bloomberg argued that Scheindlin had denied “a fair trial” to the city.
But in November 2019, prior to embarking on his presidential campaign, Bloomberg apologized for “stop and frisk” in an appearance at the Christian Cultural Center, a Brooklyn church in which the congregation is primarily Black.
“Over time, I’ve come to understand something that I long struggled to admit to myself: I got something important wrong,” Bloomberg said. “I got something important really wrong. I didn’t understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we know, good intentions aren’t good enough.”