Remembering The Worst of Bloomberg: Stop & Frisk

Whether billionaire Mike Bloomberg is bored or just sees his moment, it’s unclear that he’s doing anything more than floating a trial balloon to see if he can slide into the Democratic mix as the Great White Hope, the reasonable man for the middle who isn’t out to reinvent the Great Society and isn’t a vulgar, amoral ignoramus whose only motivations are self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment.

But then, Bloomberg’s tenure as Mayor of New York was not without its well-founded controversy, the worst of which was “stop & frisk.” Like any well-named program, it linked to a completely lawful and proper concept, as Terry v. Ohio expressly permitted “stop and frisk” (note that I don’t use the ampersand to distinguish between the two), but the program instituted bore no greater connection to lawful stop and frisk than a name.

Under the law, a police officer with reasonable, articulable suspicion could briefly stop an individual to ask questions. If the officer had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person posed a threat of harm, either as the cause for the initial stop or in addition to it, the cop could frisk the person for a weapon.

This was not how stop & frisk played out on the street of New York. Cops uptown, which is a euphemism for black and Hispanic neighborhoods, would toss black and Hispanic people, primarily young men, at will. No suspicion for stop. No suspicion to frisk. It didn’t happen in better neighborhoods. It didn’t happen to white kids.

It was a constant occurrence in the hood, and no black kid could be assured he could make it home from school without getting tossed. And this was fine with the cops, who believed they were doing god’s work by searching kids for weapons or drugs, and black and Hispanic young men were where the drugs and guns would be found. The theory was that if they didn’t have weapons or drugs, they were let go and no harm, no foul.

Of course, the flagrant violation of their constitutional rights wasn’t considered harm in contrast with the safety of the “good people” of New York City valued over other people’s rights. It was a sacrifice most white New Yorkers were happy to make, particularly since it didn’t touch them or their kids.

Granted, this came as a consequence of the crack epidemic, of the shocking explosion in murders in New York City, but by the time stop & frisk happened, crime had experienced a ten-year decline. The sense of fear of crime, however, lags far behind the reality, and again, it wasn’t a price white New York paid for its beloved feeling of safety.

Mayor Bloomberg was totally behind the stop & frisk program. It’s not that he didn’t know it was bogus. Everyone knew. The numbers made it impossible not to know. But still, it was worth violating a few million rights for the safety felt by every resident of Sutton Place.

How bad was it? Interestingly, Charles Blow provides an excellent recap of the horror of the stop & frisk program, proving that when the facts support your position, their faithful recounting is possible.

In 2002, the first year Bloomberg was mayor, 97,296 of these stops were recorded. They surged during Bloomberg’s tenure to a peak of 685,724 stops in 2011, near the end of his third term. Nearly 90 percent of the people who were stopped and frisked were innocent of any wrongdoing.

In 2009, there were more than 580,000 stop-and-frisks, a record at the time. Of those stopped, 55 percent were black, 32 percent Hispanic and only 10 percent white. Most were young, and almost all were male. Eighty-eight percent were innocent.

To the extent anyone would argue that there was any legal justification for the stops, note that 88% of the kids tossed had neither weapons nor drugs. So much for the myth that cops have a magical sixth sense of who’s a bad dude. Or, just as likely, they were told to go out and make their numbers, so they randomly tossed kids for wearing saggy pants or having an “attitude,” or there were two or more talking on a street corner. Hey, it could be a drug deal. Or it could just be two kids talking to each other. You never know until you throw them against a wall and search their bag and pockets.

Does this make Mike Bloomberg the old, male, white, rich Kamala Harris of the campaign?

Just the idea of Bloomberg in the race is odious to me. And support for his candidacy incenses me. Anyone who would support Bloomberg is complicit in his terror campaign against those young black and Hispanic men — and dismissive of their pain.

If you support Bloomberg, I want nothing to do with you. Nothing!

For Blow, Bloomberg’s overwhelming support for stop & frisk is a deal breaker. Then again, if you’ve never been invited to Blow’s house for dinner, it’s unclear what his wanting nothing to do with you means. But this time, his calling stop & frisk a “terror campaign against young black and Hispanic men” isn’t hyperbole.

Few of us would take lightly having a cop randomly stop us, manhandle us by putting up against a wall or forcing us to lie on a less than sanitary New York sidewalk, and get felt up or compelled to empty our pockets or open our bags so some guy yelling curses at us could do as he pleased. And if you disagreed with his decision to toss you, it was not uncommon to be taught who was boss with what the cops delightfully called a “tune up.” That was life in the big city for black and Hispanic young men. Every single day.

Bear in mind — especially those dolts whose answer is “if you don’t want the cops to arrest you, don’t commit crimes” — that only 1% of the millions upon millions of young men tossed had guns, and even “contraband,” primarily minor amounts of weed, were found only on 1.75% of those tossed.

Whether you share Blow’s view that this is a deal breaker is another matter. That Bloomberg might be positioned as the most reasonable candidate, the one best suited to not be too extreme on either end of the spectrum, speaks to how crazy the ends have become. And maybe in the grand scheme of what’s at stake, he will be more palatable to many Americans than the radical left or the racist right. Bloomberg is very much responsible for a flagrantly racist policy of stop & frisk in New York City, and yet he may still be the least worst path forward.

9 thoughts on “Remembering The Worst of Bloomberg: Stop & Frisk

  1. Cabbage

    How does this statistic:

    > note that 88% of the kids tossed had neither weapons nor drugs

    square with this one?

    > only 1% of the millions upon millions of young men tossed had guns, and even “contraband,” primarily minor amounts of weed, were found only on 1.75% of those tossed.

    The former suggests a 12% success rate for the searches while the latter suggests maybe something like a 2.75% hit rate. What am I missing?

    1. SHG Post author

      The 12% included others, such as people with bench warrants or arrested for other reasons such as resisting and disorderly conduct? They might not be fairly characterized as “innocent,” but they weren’t found in possession of weapons or contraband.

  2. SamS

    Bloomburg is unique in that as many on the right detest him as those like Charles Blow and you on the left. His gun confiscation plan as well as environmental plans are as freedom abusing as his stop and frisk policy.

  3. Fubar

    Bloomberg is very much responsible for a flagrantly racist policy of stop & frisk in New York City, and yet he may still be the least worst path forward.

  4. B. McLeod

    “Stop and frisk” bothers us because of our profession. It bothered the people who were its victims because they were its victims. Most New York City dwellers seemed to pretty much see it a brilliant idea, until the courts screwed it up. If Bloomberg could have sold it as a thing somehow especially protective of women, and needed for the control of toxic masculinity in urban society, the courts probably would have found a way around the constitutional defects.

    1. SHG Post author

      Bloomberg came before it was fully understood that stop & frisk could be reframed as toxic masculinity. Otherwise, he could have been mayor for life, just like Rudy.

  5. Casual Lurker

    “For Blow, Bloomberg’s overwhelming support for stop & frisk is a deal breaker.”

    I will never forgive Bloomberg for his nanny-state Trans-fat ban. From 2006 until 2018 (when the FDA issued a nation-wide Trans-fat ban), I had to have residents of the Garden State, who commuted into the city, exfiltrate half-decent baked goods across state lines.

    Donuts cooked with Trans-fat free oil or shortening take on a cardboard texture, just as soon as they cool to room temperature. Why should I have to suffer, just because some folks can’t control themselves!?!?

    I’ve no doubt that Bloomy can’t wait to impose several of his other nanny-state ideas on the nation. Just wait until it’s Bacon’s turn. Then we’ll see where most folks “deal breaker” line lies.

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