Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
If you need proof that Michael Bloomberg is the absolute wrong person to lead the diverse Democratic coalition to victory in 2020, look no further than a recently resurfaced 2015 recording of him defending not only the controversial policy of stop-and-frisk but violent, racist policing in New York City. Writer Benjamin Dixon, who supports Senator Bernie Sanders, posted the audio to Twitter on Monday.
“You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed,” Bloomberg can be heard saying. “You want to spend the money on a lot of cops in the streets, put the 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 is true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that is true. Why did we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is,” Bloomberg says. “And the way you get the guns out of the kid’s hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them.”
“Ninety-five percent of murders, murderers and murder victims” are male minorities between 16 to 25, Bloomberg says.
This is actually not true – not in New York City, and not nationwide. In 2015, reportedly the same year as this recording of Bloomberg, black men committed 36% of murders, and were 52% of murder victims, according to FBI data cited by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service. White men were 30% of murderers and 43% of murder victims. According to FBI statistics from 2015, just under 16% of male murder victims were Latino or Hispanic and less than 10% of offenders were Latino or Hispanic.
These statements should be disqualifying for Bloomberg on their face: We definitely don’t need another president who uses racist scare tactics and outlandishly false claims to justify his bad policy goals. In his response to CNN about the recording, Bloomberg said of stop and frisk, “this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”
But we know now, and we knew in 2015, just how devastating over-policing and over-incarceration is to communities of color. We know, for example, that, while there aren’t significant differences in how often black Americans and white Americans use drugs, black people are 6.5 times as likely as whites to be incarcerated for drug-related crimes, according to The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. According to The Sentencing Project, Hispanic men are almost four times as likely to go to prison over the course of their lifetimes as non-Hispanic white males and – according to The Sentencing Project’s citation of Justice Department data from 2015 – Latino youth are 65% more likely to be detained or committed than their white peers.
We know that having an overwhelming police presence in a community frequently yields antagonistic or traumatic relationships between the police and the policed – often resulting in more, not less, criminal behavior. We know that a whole series of punitive laws built over decades means that an arrest and a conviction can entirely upend a person’s life, leaving them struggling to get a job, often barred from public housing, stripped of the right to receive necessary benefits like food stamps, blocked from receiving funding for a college education and unable to support themselves, let alone a family – feeding into, not interrupting, a cycle of trauma, poverty and crime that then justifies powerful politicians like Michael Bloomberg pushing for more of the same, despite the devastating consequences.
There are few issues in the history of the modern United States that have been as overwhelmingly destructive as mass incarceration. Bloomberg and the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policies were one troubling component of a web of laws and policies in New York and across the nation that turned communities of color into communities of the surveilled and the abused; that created the school-to-prison pipeline and told even very young people that they were suspect and dangerous and their city was just waiting to trap them in a cage; that made it near impossible for a generation of adults, most of them black and brown, to fully participate in society.
Yes, Bloomberg apologized for stop-and-frisk – kind of. In both 2019 and 2020, he said that he should have curbed the policy sooner and faster. And while he has said he was wrong, he has never fully grappled publicly with the ways in which his tenure as mayor simply broke so many families, and shattered entire communities.
This is no small thing. This is about decency, judgment and the very basics of leading a party that is fueled by voters of color and claims to stand for basic fairness and justice. Lots of Democrats made significant mistakes in the 1990s when it came to being tough on crime – mistakes that were readily apparent by the mid-2000s. You cannot be the leader of a diverse, justice-oriented party when you said, just a few years ago – well after we well knew just how damaging over-policing and mass incarceration are – that “the way you get the guns out of the kid’s hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them.” You cannot be the leader of a diverse, justice-oriented party when you said you “put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods … because that’s where all the crime is.”
That doesn’t mean there’s no place for Bloomberg to make amends. I hope he takes large chunks of his tremendous fortune and hands it off to the groups now fighting the scourge of surveillance, trauma and violence to which he contributed. I hope he gives handsomely to the effort to make sure Donald Trump loses in 2020. I hope that the public shows him a humanity and sense of mercy that he and his NYPD refused so many New Yorkers.
I hope he makes amends for the sprawling damage he has done. But these comments prove that the White House isn’t the place for him to do it.