Mike Bloomberg is running for president and he’d rather not talk about “Stop and Frisk,” thank you very much.
The billionaire and former three-term mayor of New York had been forcefully defending the controversial policing policy as recently as this past January, and only disavowed it with a rote apology upon announcing his entry into the Democratic primary race last month.
In an interview with “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King last week, Bloomberg seemed to briefly inhabit a world where search engines don’t exist.
King asked if he understood why some people were suspicious of his abrupt change of heart on one of his signature policies. Bloomberg replied, “Well, nobody asked me about it until I started running for president, so, c’mon.”
Chutzpah isn’t quite strong enough a word. Bloomberg’s statement was, to put it mildly, absurd.
“Stop and Frisk” was the biggest controversy of Bloomberg’s third term as mayor
For Bloomberg to say no one asked him about the policy until last month would be laughable if it weren’t so offensive.
Scheindlin wrote that the vast majority of stops were for “furtive movements” — which could include anything from fidgeting or looking away from an approaching officer. It was purely an officer’s judgment call, and no supporting evidence was required. These, in Scheindlin’s view, amounted to violations of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from suspicionless searches.
The judge also noted in her opinion that of the more than four million stops conducted between 2004 and 2012, almost 90% failed to produce an arrest or even a ticket. Also, she wrote, blacks and Hispanics “were more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband.”
Officers said they were ordered to meet stop and frisk “quotas,” with one officer testifying that during morning roll calls he was told they had to make a certain number of stops, arrests, and citations per month or “you are going to become a Pizza Hut deliveryman.”
And now in the face of the evidence that his policy was not even necessary, Bloomberg simply wants to act as if it never happened.
Bloomberg might want to move on, but anyone arrested for petty marijuana crimes can’t
Bloomberg might want to move on, but you know who can’t? All the thousands of people in New York City who now have arrest records for petty drug crimes that had nothing to do with the ostensible reason for stop and frisk — which was getting illegal guns off the streets.
Under stop and frisk, citizens were often compelled to empty their pockets, sometimes revealing marijuana. That put the person in an impossible situation, since publicly displaying marijuana (as opposed to possessing it in your pockets and out of public view) was an arrestable offense.
There were over 400,000 arrests for minor marijuana charges in New York during Bloomberg’s mayorship from 2002 to 2012. In fact, there were more arrests on that charge from 2007 through 2011 than in the 24 years before Bloomberg took office combined — a stretch that encompasses three mayoralities: Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani.
Drug reform skeptics regularly argue that no one is serving hard time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. But that misses the real damage caused by Bloomberg’s policy. While these arrests didn’t lead to lengthy prison stays, they carried long-term life-altering consequences.
Of the more than 532,000 stops conducted by the NYPD in 2012, fully 87% of those stopped were black or Latino (just 10% were white), according to a report by the New York Civil Liberties Union. Over 5,000 marijuana arrests resulted from these stops, while just 729 guns were found.
The experience of being handcuffed, fingerprinted, mug-shotted, and held behind bars is traumatizing and humiliating. But even without a conviction, a criminal arrest record is easily searchable. Despite efforts at reform, prospective employers, landlords, and money lenders are within their rights to reject applicants with criminal records. Even in 2019, a drug arrest carries significant costs.
Then there’s the official policies, both local and federal, that permanently penalize drug arrestees.
Bloomberg owes victims of “stop and frisk” more than a politically expedient mea culpa
Yes, Bloomberg apologized for the “overzealous” stop and frisk practice he aggressively championed, both in and out of office, for nearly two decades.
But he didn’t apologize to the legions of lives irrevocably altered by one of the defining policies of his tenure in City Hall.
Bloomberg now says he supports “decriminalization” and as president, he wouldn’t interfere with states that have fully legalized cannabis. However, as recently as last January he said legalizing marijuana was “perhaps the stupidest thing we’ve ever done.”
At the very least, Bloomberg could promise that if elected president his Justice Department would reclassify marijuana off of its current designation as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, drugs deemed to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
While a mea culpa would be refreshing, a true act of contrition could look something like the world’s eighth-richest human setting up a college fund or some other form of financial relief for anyone busted for petty marijuana possession in New York from 2002-2013.
For Bloomberg to prove he truly regrets his strident stance on the topic over all these years, he should put his money where his mouth is.