Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg Rewrites His History of Doggedly Defending Stop and Frisk

The presidential candidate's explanation of his sudden reversal on the issue is utterly implausible.

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During last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg continued to push an utterly implausible explanation of his transparently insincere turnaround on the wisdom and fairness of the "stop, question, and frisk" (SQF) program that subjected innocent black and brown people to millions of humiliating ordeals while he was mayor of New York City. "We let it get out of control," he said, "and when I realized that, I cut it back by 95 percent. And I've apologized and asked for forgiveness."

Bloomberg did not mention that the annual number of SQF encounters septupled during his administration, from fewer than 100,000 in 2002 to more than 685,000 in 2011. While that number had fallen dramatically by the end of Bloomberg's final term, the 2013 total was still about twice the total in 2002. Furthermore, the drop between 2011 and 2013 was 72 percent, not 95 percent. The reduction touted by Bloomberg is based on a cherry-picked comparison between the first quarter of 2012 and the last quarter of 2013.

While Bloomberg wants us to believe he decided to reduce the number of stops because he realized they were "out of control," the cutback came after years of controversy over the program, including a federal lawsuit initiated in 2008. In 2011, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected the city's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and in 2012 she certified it as a class action. That was the year SQF stops began to drop. "It wasn't because [Bloomberg] had an epiphany that it was wrong," Scheindlin, who retired from the bench in 2016, noted in an MSNBC interview last week. "It was because of the court rulings."

In 2013, Scheindlin concluded that SQF violated both the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection and the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. The empirical basis for that decision was damning.

Nine times out of 10, the people stopped by police were black or Latino. Although each of those stops was supposed to be based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, police made no arrests and issued no summonses in nearly nine out of 10 cases. And although police were supposed to frisk someone only if they reasonably suspected he was armed, 52 percent of the stops included pat-downs, according to Scheindlin's analysis of 4.4 million encounters from January 2004 to June 2012. Just 1.5 percent of those pat-downs yielded weapons of any kind, and police almost never found firearms, although preventing gun violence was Bloomberg's main rationale for the program.

Bloomberg, who by that time supposedly had realized that SQF was "out of control," reacted to Scheindlin's decision not with contrition but with outrage. "There is just no question that stop-question-frisk has saved countless lives," he said. "And we know that most of the lives saved, based on the statistics, have been black and Hispanic young men." He complained that Scheindlin "made it clear she was not interested in the crime reductions" and "ignored the real-world realities of crime."

Bloomberg's continued to doggedly defend SQF for years after he left office, saying it yielded reductions in the homicide rate that justified the burdens it imposed on young black and Latino men. During a 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute, he explained the strategy, which contributed to a dramatic surge in low-level pot busts, this way:

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.

Although Bloomberg's audience may have thought he meant that police were actually seizing illegal guns, that was almost never true: The share of stops yielding guns was 0.38 percent in 2002, his first year as mayor, and had fallen to 0.033 percent by 2011. "The number of guns that we've been finding has continued to go down, which says the program at this scale is doing a great job," he bragged in a 2012 radio interview. "The whole idea here…is not to catch people with guns; it's to prevent people from carrying guns." Bloomberg either did not know or did not care that his "whole idea" was blatantly unconstitutional, since both stops and pat-downs are supposed to be based on reasonable suspicion.

"We have to keep a lid on crime," Bloomberg said during last week's Democratic debate in Las Vegas, "but we cannot go out and stop people indiscriminately, and that was what was happening." Contrary to Bloomberg's current spin, it did not happen accidentally. His avowed strategy as mayor was to "stop people indiscriminately" in the hope of deterring them from carrying guns. The only kind of discrimination police showed was their focus on young men with dark skin, whom they routinely stopped and frisked without reasonable suspicion. If anything, Bloomberg said in 2013, "we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little," judging from the racial breakdown in crime statistics.

As Scheindlin noted in her decision, that argument is constitutionally specious. "The City and its highest officials believe that blacks and Hispanics should be stopped at the same rate as their proportion of the local criminal suspect population," she wrote. "But this reasoning is flawed because the stopped population is overwhelmingly innocent—not criminal….While a person's race may be important if it fits the description of a particular crime suspect, it is impermissible to subject all members of a racially defined group to heightened police enforcement because some members of that group are criminals. The Equal Protection Clause does not permit race-based suspicion."

In a 2018 interview with The New York Times, Bloomberg suggested that his record of supporting SQF would prove to be an asset if he entered the presidential race. "I think people, the voters, want low crime," he said. "They don't want kids to kill each other." As recently as March 2019, he was mocking the notion of launching "an apology tour," à la former Vice President Joe Biden, to make up for a history of supporting anti-crime policies that are unpopular with Democratic primary voters.

Eight months later—a week before he officially entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination—Bloomberg began his own apology tour, telling the congregation of a large African-American church in Brooklyn he had finally seen the error of his ways. For 17 years, he thought randomly stopping, interrogating, and frisking young black and Latino men was crucial to reducing New York's homicide rate. But he realized he was wrong when he saw that homicides continued to fall as the number of stops dropped precipitously. For 17 years, he thought treating people like criminals based on their race, sex, and age was completely justified because it improved public safety. But after talking to some black people, he now realized how unjust that policy was.

What should voters make of Bloomberg's history on this issue? Shira Scheindlin herself recently weighed in on that question.

"Many people are wondering—is he a racist?" Scheindlin wrote in a New York Times op-ed piece last week. "I don't think so. Not if you look at many other valuable things he has done for minorities. I don't believe he ever understood the human toll of the stops of black and Latino men, 90 percent of which did not result in a summons or arrest. But the stops were frightening, humiliating and unwarranted invasions of black and brown people's bodies….I am convinced that Mayor Bloomberg believed that the stop-and-frisk policy…was protecting African-Americans, who were disproportionately the victims of crime."

That seems like a fair judgment to me, although it does not reflect well on Bloomberg's empathy, his intellectual humility, or his respect for the Constitution. As my colleague Matt Welch has noted, Bloomberg's conviction that he was helping black New Yorkers by subjecting them to unconstitutional seizures and searches is of a piece with his arrogant and condescending attitude toward the poor people he wants to save from their own unhealthy habits, epitomized by his ill-fated ban on extra-large sodas. In his heart, he knows he is right, even when the supposed beneficiaries of his policies vehemently disagree.

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  1. How dare he defend a program that reduced crime in his city and whose reversal has seen crime rates skyrocket back to 1970s levels!

    1. A bum using a squeegee on your car windshield and then demanding you pay him for it and then taking a shit on the sidewalk after you do is the Libertarian moment man.

    2. “New York City set a new standard for safety last year, with its third straight year of falling murders, city officials said on Thursday.

      The New York Police Department recorded 289 murders in 2018, three fewer than the 292 recorded in 2017…”

      Oh, yeah, skyrocketing…..

      https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-citys-murder-rate-hit-new-low-in-2018-11546559793

      1. Hey Albert, it is 2020. Really, it was in all of the papers.

        In 2020, New York’s murder rate and violent crime rate is going up.

        The NYPD says despite crime still plunging to historic lows, they have serious concerns about the increase in murders. According to the department’s CompStat records through February, the murder rate for this year is now up by more than 36 percent compared to 2018.

        This month also saw a rise in rapes, and overall this year, they’re up by nearly 19 percent over last year.

        “February saw an increase as has been the trend, 133 to 122 however, the increase is nine percent this month as opposed to the 30 percent increase we saw last February,” Deputy Chief Pollock added.
        http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2019/03/04/nypd-spike-violent-crime-rate/

        1. Following years of historically low homicide rates, even for years after stop an frisk ended, perhaps NYC is just returning more to the “norm?”

    3. By “he” do you mean Bloomberg? Because he’s not defending the policy; he’s backing away from it as fast as he can.

  2. Am I the only one who thinks this guy is a homo? No offence, but look at his face. The slack muscles under the eyes. You see it on Kevin Spacey, Elton John, and Neil Patrick Harris. Dude is queerer than a three dollar bill. Explains a lot too. All the self hatred…

    1. He looks like the offspring of Kermit the Frog and some type of reptile after a drunken mistake.

      1. “Bud…Wise…er…oh!”

      2. Couldn’t be Kermit’s kid, Kermit was taller.

        1. Since we’re heading down this rabbit hole, can we cross reference the democrat candidates to their respective muppets?

          Sanders is easy – Stadtler (and Waldorf)

          1. Biden is making about as much sense as Animal.

            1. Warren is Gonzo

    2. Isn’t Bloomberg known for his womanizing? (Unlike, say, Ed Koch, another former NYC mayor who many thought was gay, without any real evidence.) Not that his sexual orientation is at all relevant here. BTW, does Pete Buttigieg have the facial trait you are talking about? Bloomberg has a relatively long face, as does Elton John. Could that be a factor in what you are talking about?

    3. I’m guessing he falls somewhere on the bi-spectrum. Not a complete flamer, but definitely more toward the gay end. You can tell from his sexist comments that he is trying to cover something up.

    4. He looks like he could be the villian in every DIsney movie ever.

  3. Look here black folks, he’s only doing this to you because he loves you.

    1. ^This^. And if it was the 1840’s he’d be explaining how slavery is good for the negro.

  4. He complained that Scheindlin “made it clear she was not interested in the crime reductions” and “ignored the real-world realities of crime.”

    A judge that accurately determines that the Constitution applies to people of color? Outrageous!!!

    Again stating the obvious – Bloomberg is evil.

    1. His support of stop and frisk is probably the least offensive thing he supports. He also says that every young minority should be deprived of the right to own a gun for their own good.

      1. From guns to food to taxation, he thinks he should be allowed to rule over “those people”.

  5. Hey everybody, take it easy on Mike; he is totally not used to being expected to answer for himself. This here is new territory for him.

    1. On the agenda for next debate: Pay everyone in the room $10,000 to quit being such meanies to him.

  6. It’s not a lie if you believe it. It’s also not a lie if you just say random shit and move on, never apologizing, never explaining, just saying more shit. And look at Bloomberg go. He’s blanketing the airwaves three layers deep with bullshit, you’re challenging him, but he ain’t responding, is he? He’s not even listening to you, he’s not even aware that you’re talking. He. Doesn’t. Give. A. Shit. He’s moving on, you’re stuck here talking about something he said yesterday. And nobody’s listening to you, are they? You’re never going to catch him staying 24 hours behind the news cycle.

    Bloomberg’s only problem is he’s introverted because he’s still capable of feeling shame and there’s things he’d rather people didn’t know about him. He seriously needs some drugs to get rid of those inhibitions. Go get drunk in Vegas and fuck a couple of high-dollar whores in the lobby at Caesar’s Palace there, Mikey! Own it, brag about it! If you got it, flaunt it! Now do something like that on a weekly basis.

    But never, ever, ever, ever apologize or explain – and the more things you’ve said and done that normal human beings would think need an apology or an explanation the better. This demonstrates that you’re not a normal person and the normal rules don’t apply to you because you’ve got brass balls the size of cantaloupes. People like that sort of thing, it’s how they’d like to act but they can’t because they’re afraid. What would the neighbors think? I’d get fired if I said that to the boss! My wife would leave me if I indulged in that sort of behavior! What would I say to my family and friends when they found out? But you can be their champion, Mikey! You can be a superhero – Captain Fuck You, Man! It worked for Trump, didn’t it?

  7. Just 1.5 percent of those pat-downs yielded weapons of any kind, and police almost never found firearms, although preventing gun violence was Bloomberg’s main rationale for the program.

    “What is this ‘although’ crap? Obviously the system *worked*!”

  8. Just say it Mike “I made NYC safe for white people again!” Or maybe Trump will say it for you

  9. I kind of enjoyed Scheindlin and Sullum’s interpretation that Bloomberg’s objectively racist policies that were at the center of racial animus in NYC for nearly 2 decades don’t indicate that he’s a racist ….. meanwhile, Trump’s (or any other Republican politician’s) objectively not-racist policies, speeches and outcomes prove that he’s a racist to the bone, and so are all of his supporters, and those who don’t actually support him but don’t support his DNC sponsored opponents either….

  10. “The presidential candidate’s explanation of his sudden reversal on the issue is utterly implausible.”

    Don’t be silly; it makes perfect sense when you consider he is an elitist, asshole, lying bag of shit, who thinks he knows better how to run your life under rules that don’t apply to him.

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  13. uh oh. Maybe Mike has been . . ..well . . .something . . .https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2020/03/06/group-stomps-girl-on-brooklyn-sidewalk/

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