In an appearance at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized for the NYPD policy of stop and frisk, which resulted in the disproportionate and unconstitutional detaining and searching of young African-American and Hispanic New Yorkers. “I can’t change history, but today, I want you to know I realize I was wrong, and I am sorry,” Bloomberg told the congregation at the black megachurch in the neighborhood of East New York. “Over time, I’ve come to understand something that I’ve long struggled to admit to myself: I got something important wrong. I didn’t understand the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities.”
The apology came in Bloomberg’s first speech since putting in his paperwork to run for the Democratic primary in Alabama, the state with the first filing deadline. Even after a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the “policy of indirect racial profiling” violated the constitutional rights of young men of color, Bloomberg defended the practice, claiming that the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, did not provide “a fair trial.”
That year, Bloomberg also said that “we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little,” claiming that the racial disparities in stop and frisk were evidence of criminality, not the result of bias. He has defended the program for years, including in a 2018 interview with the New York Times. “I now see that we should have acted sooner, and acted faster,” he said on Sunday.
The stark turnaround did not receive universal acclaim. Though Reverend Al Sharpton — a leading critic of the practice — praised Bloomberg and his understanding “that it will take more than one speech for people to forgive and forget a policy that so negatively impacted entire communities,” the former mayor was disparaged elsewhere for the timing of his apology. “This is about what he wants,” Amira Beatty, a teacher who attended the service, told the New York Times. “He didn’t come to C.C.C. because he’s here to promote a C.C.C. initiative. He’s here to promote a Bloomberg initiative.”
“The Bloomberg apology is not purely about black voters,” tweeted FiveThirtyEight’s Perry Bacon Jr., who noted that African-American voters largely support Joe Biden, the author of the 1994 crime bill. “It is a necessary move so black elites like Sharpton don’t trash him. And white Dems care about racial equality too — listen to how Pete talks about race.”
Bloomberg also faced admonishment from city leadership. “Up until recently he was holding steady, so I’m very concerned about this 11th-hour conversion because he wants to run for president,” said New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “Why would it take running for president to see what everybody has seen for a very long time — that unconstitutional stops were wrong.”
“Mayor Bloomberg could have saved himself this apology if he had just listened to the police officers on the street,” said Patrick Lynch, the president of the city’s largest police union. “We said in the early 2000s that the quota-driven emphasis on street stops was polluting the relationship between cops and our communities.”
Current mayor and former 2020 hopeful Bill de Blasio was also frustrated by the convenience of the apology:
Though the application of stop and frisk fell sharply under Mayor de Blasio — a 98 percent decrease from 700,000 stops in 2011 to 11,629 in 2017 — racial disparities in arrests remain a profound concern. Though black and Hispanic males between the ages of 14 and 24 make up just 5 percent of the city population, they represented 38 percent of stops between 2014 and 2017. In the first three months of 2019, black and Hispanic young men constituted almost 89 percent of stops.