Bloomberg, as many before me have explored in detail, expanded the New York Police Department’s use of “stop and frisk,” a tactic that empowered police officers to stop, search and interrogate residents on the sole basis of “reasonable suspicion.” Overall, between 2004 and 2012, the NYPD — which Bloomberg once called his “own army” while also weirdly claiming that it was the “seventh biggest army in the world” — stopped 4.4 million New York residents. The vast majority, more than 80 percent, were black and brown people, especially young men and boys. In 2011, according to a contemporaneous report by the New York Civil Liberties Union, police stopped more young black men than the total number living in the city. “By the time I was 15 to 18, I’d say I was stopped, questioned and frisked at least 60 to 70 times,” Tyquan Brehon, a young Brooklyn resident, said in a 2012 interview with The New York Times.
Bloomberg had no time for this criticism. “If we stopped people based on census numbers, we would stop many fewer criminals, recover many fewer weapons and allow many more violent crimes to take place,” he said in 2012. He said as much again in 2015 at an Aspen Institute event. “Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city.”
He continued: “People say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana who are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why’d we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids’ hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them.”
Bloomberg was wrong about the efficacy of stop and frisk. According to a 2013 report from the public advocate’s office (then run by the current mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio), stopping a black New Yorker was half as likely to yield a weapon as stopping a white New Yorker, and one-third as likely to yield drugs and other contraband. The reason was simple. A disproportionate number of those convicted of violent crime may have been young men of color, but the vast majority of young men of color weren’t involved in violent crime or any crime at all. Stopping someone on the basis of race was a recipe for false positives; stopping on the basis of actual suspicious behavior, on the other hand, would yield results, which is what happened when police stopped white residents.
But Bloomberg didn’t care to get it right. He believed that to stop crime he had to control the city’s black and brown people. And that’s what he did, without apology or remorse, until it was politically necessary to express regret.