Stop and Frisk

Bloomberg's Awful Old Quotes Defending Unconstitutional Stop-and-Frisk Are Coming Back to Haunt Him

The former New York mayor is being called a racist for his former support of searching young minorities without cause.


A new clip from a 2015 speech has resurfaced documenting former New York Mayor and current Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg's forceful defenses of stop-and-frisk practices as a mechanism to fight crime, knowing and approving of the targeting of young minority men.

Progressive political podcaster Benjamin Dixon focused on Bloomberg's history in an episode Monday and has posted a clip of the comments on YouTube:

The speech was given in an Aspen Institute appearance in 2015, and Bloomberg's representatives had blocked the release of video of his comments. The contents of the speech were hardly a secret, though, and Reason's Robby Soave made note of them back when Bloomberg gave the speech, criticizing Bloomberg's condescending attitude toward young black men. It was also in Aspen in 2015 where Bloomberg continued to insist that marijuana legalization was one of the "stupider things that's happening across the country."

Now that Bloomberg's running for president, all of these full-throated defenses of his support for unconstitutional stop-and-frisk practices are going to be thrown in his face as the Democrats vie for the votes of urban progressives. Quotes like this:

"Put the cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods. So, one of the unintended consequences is, 'Oh my god, you're 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 walls and frisk them."

So to summarize: The young minority men searched without probable cause and then arrested for marijuana possession were merely the side effects of the more important goal of stopping violent crime. And New York City just had to break all these eggs to make this pretty, crime-free cake.

But critics knew (and most certainly Bloomberg also knew) that these searches rarely ever found guns at all. In 2012, New York City police found them in less than .1 percent of 532,000 stops. Bloomberg insists that these searches then serve as a deterrent keeping these guys from carrying guns around. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people in New York City were arrested for marijuana possession annually (even though it had been decriminalized) thanks in part to these searches. Data from the New York Civil Liberties Union about these searches found that less than a quarter of them happened because officers suspected a person might have a gun.

It wasn't until November, a week before Bloomberg announced his candidacy, that he acknowledged that he had been wrong about stop-and-frisk. He had argued that these efforts were necessary to fight violent crime, and yet crime continued to fall in New York after Mayor Bill de Blasio, Bloomberg's successor, largely abandoned the practice.

Reason's Jacob Sullum questioned the sincerity of Bloomberg's conversion with good reason. We can hear in that clip that, a year after leaving office, Bloomberg was still insisting stop-and-frisk worked even though data showed it wasn't true, and one judge had already ruled that the way police in New York City implemented stop-and-frisk violated citizens' Fourth Amendment rights.

In an odd development, President Donald Trump attempted to use this revived quote to attack Bloomberg as a "TOTAL RACIST" in a tweet that was quickly deleted. The tweet might have been taken down after somebody reminded Trump that he's a huge supporter of stop-and-frisk techniques and, in fact, campaigned on them in 2016 and said Bloomberg's crime-fighting tactics did "incredibly well."

This morning Bloomberg's campaign responded and made the whole fight stranger by attacking Trump, even though, again, up until November, they had both agreed that stop-and-frisk was a good policing tactic. Bloomberg's statement reads in part:

"President Trump's deleted tweet is the latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans. I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, 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."

But the problem here is that Bloomberg's comments at Aspen make it clear that he did indeed know the impact that stop-and-frisk had on these communities. He just believed that the impact of harassing all these young men and upending their lives was worth it if it made people feel safer, even if the data didn't back it up and even when he was told he was violating people's constitutional rights.