Land Matters: The Bloomberg Paradox
Considering all the fans that Michael Bloomberg has won among people who work for a better public sphere, it’s disturbing that he and the New York City Police Department continue to push ever harder for the department’s stop-and-frisk approach to crime prevention. This policy, which a federal judge flatly rejected in its current form in an August decision, asserts that any person—but often certain persons, eight out of 10 of them black or Latino—could be stopped by the police, questioned, and patted down basically at random on the street for “behaving suspiciously.” There is no exact definition of what constitutes this behavior, and even if there were, it’s clear the police would continue to flout it regularly as they have for much of the past decade. A tactic that should be used with great discretion has unfortunately become a widespread and quite successful campaign of intimidation.
And yet all the while there is the deep humiliation of stop and frisk. There is the fact of it and Bloomberg’s ongoing defense and unwillingness to consider the harm it is doing. The numbers of stop-and-frisk incidents are frankly incredible and do not in any way suggest a fair or efficient policy. If they did, Bloomberg might emphasize something other than that frisking black and Latino persons saves black and Latino lives. It’s their very own program! (And people talk about the South.) “As recently as 1990, New York City averaged more than six murders a day,” Bloomberg said in his response to the decision of Judge Shira Scheindlin to order major modifications to the practice of stop and frisk. What is striking is that such a modern mayor is still reacting so strongly to the crack epidemic, which began to wane two decades ago in New York.
There has been nothing this summer to make black Americans, in particular, believe that racial harassment is easing. In June, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. In July, George Zimmerman was acquitted of shooting Travyon Martin. In August, the mayor of New York was defending a policy that violates privacy and is racially driven. It is not Bloomberg’s aim to intrude on the civil rights of minorities in New York. It is his effect. It is no less pernicious than lousy infrastructure or a lack of parks to the life of the city, particularly one where inequality is growing only starker. His administration seems to be saying that some people are supposed to enjoy their lush, renewed city, while others must be discouraged from hanging around in it too long.