Is Michael Bloomberg Sorry?

Listen to this episode

S1: About a week before declaring himself a presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, showed up for Sunday services at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn.

S2: Thank you, everyone.

S3: And good morning.

S1: This is a ninety six thousand square foot megachurch. The audience is mostly black. Bloomberg came here offering an apology.

S4: We didn’t make mistakes. I made mistakes. I’ve never met anybody who hasn’t made a mistake. The critical issue is whether you can admit it.

S1: This mistake happened when Bloomberg was mayor. That’s when he supported a policy that allowed police to question and search New Yorkers even when they were doing nothing wrong. The policy was called stop and frisk.

S4: Our focus was on saving lives. The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. And the overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino. That may have included, I’m sorry to say, some of you here today.

S5: Well, I mean, it’s interesting to watch. Yes. It was this kind of like. Sorry, not sorry. Yes. Apology. Yes.

S1: Darius Charney was part of a team of lawyers that spent five years suing the city of New York over stop and frisk. He saw this speech and he thought, really?

S6: I mean, it surprised me because everything I’d heard him say about stop and frisk, both when he was mayor and even in the first few years afterwards, were the opposite of an apology.

S1: If you listen closely to Bloomberg as he talks about this policing policy, you can hear him skating around what he’s trying to say, offering excuses about trying to keep New Yorkers safe, and then admitting he came up short as mayor, like here he is giving that same speech, the apology.

S4: In fact, no other city in America did what we did.

S7: We reduced murders by 50 percent, reduced police shootings to historic lows, reduced the number of people incarcerated by nearly 40 percent.

S8: There’s this one detail. Darrius can’t stop thinking about a claim that Bloomberg started making in the last couple of months that under his administration, stop and frisks actually plummeted 95 percent. Darrius says in reality, the year Bloomberg stepped down, the city was conducting twice as many stop and frisks as when the mayor took office and city hall was continuing to fight for this policy in court.

S9: So then to hear him say, I realized we were doing the wrong thing and I started to roll it back.

S8: Those two things just don’t. I can’t reconcile those things.

S10: I guess I thought we were done arguing over whether or not the city had violated the law and Michael Bloomberg was responsible for their violations and played a role in it. And I thought we were just now supposed to talk about how we could fix it. But I guess we’re now sort of relitigating, no pun intended, what happened 10 years ago or more. And what his role in it was.

S11: You look like slightly traumatized as he sees it.

S12: Now, you know, we live in, I think, sort of traumatizing times today on the show.

S13: Darrius is gonna tell the stop and frisk story from his perspective. He took the city to court arguing stop and frisk was racist.

S8: Anyone. But seven years later, he’s still defending that win. As Bloomberg’s campaign tries to defend the mayor’s record. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next. Stick with us.

S1: Daria says one of the things you have to understand about stop and frisk is that it’s a policing tactic that’s been around a long time. A Supreme Court ruling actually allows it under certain circumstances, but data from the NYPD shows the practice skyrocketed when Mayor Bloomberg came into office.

S14: It’s something that has been around for a long time. But I think what Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly did is they turned it into really a one of their primary crime fighting strategies.

S5: Ray Kelly, the police chief. Yes. So 2002, Michael Bloomberg takes office. How did he work with Ray Kelly to change the way stop and frisk was being implemented?

S14: I mean, when he first came into office in 2002, his first year in office, the NYPD recorded about 92000 stop, question and frisk encounters for that year by 2011, which is his 10th year in office. That number had ballooned to almost 700000. So that’s like a 600 percent or more increase. Meanwhile, crime in the city continues to go down. So why do we see this huge increase? Was there a need to it was there before it was a crime spike? Absolutely not. Along with that, what you see. Ray Kelly and his senior leadership of the department doing is they are really putting out a message from the top stop. Question of frisk needs to be a primary crime fighting strategy that our officers need to use. They said that in writing, they told their supervisors, when you were evaluating your officers performance to decide on things like promotion and better assignments.

S15: One of the criteria you need to use to assess them is how many stops are they doing? How many tickets are they writing?

S5: So the more stop and frisk you’re doing as a cop. Yes. The more gold stars you get.

S15: Exactly. And the better the better evaluations you get. And conversely, if you’re not doing them, you know, we talked to many police officers who came forward at great risk to their own careers and testified in court about this. They were they were told, if you don’t make the stops, you know, your life is not going to be good in this department.

S10: And you’re not going to you’re not going to get ahead.

S14: And sure enough, if you look at those officers performance evaluations for some years, their supervisors are saying he’s not doing enough stops.

S5: What was stop and frisk meant to stop? I hear people talk about guns. I hear people talk about drugs. And I hear a kind of conflation of the two. So what was stop and frisk meant to actually prevent?

S14: Well, I mean, what the NYPD said all along and Bloomberg and Kelly said is that we’re going to use it to get guns off the street. And I think as we know, looking at the data for now, we have almost 20 years of data. They find a gun almost never when they stop people, you know, at the time of the trial. The data we had looked at over the preceding 10 years, they had recovered a gun in about point 1 5 percent of the stops that they conducted, which is doesn’t sound very effective now.

S9: So, you know, they clearly as a strategy for recovering illegal weapons, it was a miserable failure.

S16: It’s Darrius talks about this tactic. I could hear this disbelief in its voice that might be because he’s been saying the same thing for so long. He and his colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights filed their first lawsuit against stop and frisk back in 2008. They weren’t arguing against the practice at large. They were arguing against how it was being implemented aggressively by targeting people of color.

S17: So our plaintiffs, original four plaintiffs were four black men of varying ages from different parts. In New York City, we had our lead lead plaintiff, David Floyd was at that time a 20 something year old black man who was a student at City College in Harlem.

S15: He lived in the Bronx. He had been himself stopped and frisked by officers in the Bronx on two occasions. Both times he was near his home in Park Chester. Then the second time, he was literally stopped putting keys into the door of his neighbor’s apartment.

S17: He lived in a, you know, a two family, hid the basement floor. His neighbor had gotten locked out of of the house.

S15: It’s again, middle of the day, putting the keys into the door, you know, trying to different keys to try to get the right one. Its neighbor was standing next to him and the police came up on him. They patted them down. They went through their pockets.

S5: Why did these men want to get involved in this lawsuit?

S9: Why is it. Yes, they wanted to get involved and they all told us similar stories.

S17: They said we wanted we want this to stop happening to us and to our friends and loved ones, because all of them, you know, knowing where they black men, they lived in the neighborhoods where this was happening all the time. South Bronx, Harlem. And I will never forget David Floyd testify the first day of the trial, you know, when he was asked, how does it make you feel to get stopped like this? And he said, it really makes me feel like I am not free to move around this city.

S1: An audio recording that surfaced recently shows how Bloomberg thought about stop and frisk back when he’s still defending it in 2015.

S18: Yes.

S1: And you know, you’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed, Bloomberg said. The idea was send cops to minority neighborhoods and search people from my article.

S18: Yes, that’s true. I bet. All right.

S1: Why do we do it? Bloomberg asked. Because that’s where all the crime is.

S15: And that was actually his explanation in 2013. That was Ray Kelly’s explanation. Back then and you know, we had her testimony and during the trial in our case from Eric Adams, who’s now the borough president of Brooklyn. But he’s a former NYPD captain. He was a state senator at the time. And he testified that Ray Kelly told him to his face. This exact same argument that Michael Bloomberg is as in 2015, that, look, we go to the high crime areas. If we you know, yes, we do target black and Latino young men. And, you know, obviously there are many problems with those statements and kind of constitutional alarm bells go off for me. But the other thing to to note here is that if you look at the data and we had a social scientists at Columbia, look at this, and he testified in court in their case, he he kind of took the NYPD at their word and said, OK. So you’re saying you go to high crime areas. That’s where your cops go. And so since that’s where they are, because that’s where the crime is, then naturally they’re going to stop people in those neighborhoods the most. And who lives in those neighborhoods? Black and Latino kids. He looked at that and he controlled for two things. He controlled for crime and he controlled for officer deployment, which is what Bloomberg was talking about. Right. We send our cops to the high crime areas. And what he found is, even after you control for those two things, what is the single strongest predictor of who gets stopped and where stops happen? Race.

S5: Well, I guess there’s this other there’s this other thing, which is what is a high crime area. Exactly. Because once we have more cops in an area, they’re arresting more people. Exactly. You’re investing more people. It becomes a high crime area and then it becomes this kind of circle circling prophecy, as the judge called it.

S9: But yes, absolutely. So, yeah, that’s the question. So then what is a high crime area? So one example from our case is we had a a man, one of our plaintiffs who lived in, I guess, southeast Queens. And he was stopped and frisked on a winter evening. I think in like 2009. And the officers stopped him. One of the reasons the officer gave was what I observed him in a high crime area. And he said, well, I just said, did I observed my crime? And I noticed a bulge in his jacket, which, of course, was a cell phone. And keep in mind, this is in the middle of the night, like December night in 2009. So I’m like, I don’t know how you saw a bulge in his pocket, but whatever it was, a cell phone. So those were the two reasons he gave. He had a bulge in his pocket and he was in a high crime area. So he’s, you know, cross-examined in court. Well, what did you what how is this a high crime area? And his answer was, well, there was a robbery pattern in in Queens, a robbery pattern, Queens. Now, Queens is, I believe. Is it the largest borough by landmass in New York City? It’s massive to say that there was a robbery pattern in all of Queens. And that robbery pattern, I guess, was three or four robberies over the course of the prior month, and they were committed by black males. And so that was that was what made this neighborhood, in his view, a high crime area.

S5: So your trial played out all during Michael Bloomberg’s administration. And I’m wondering how you saw that as part of the trial, like we have done other reporting. They talked a little bit about his money and how he was able to use his financial his wealth to push the agenda. He wanted to put it in the courtroom day in, day out. Did you see that? Did you get a sense of that?

S6: I mean, I think what was clear to us is that the the NYPD media machine was very, very powerful because, you know, the press was obviously covering this trial very closely, which, you know, we expected them to. But you know, what became clear to us every day, because we would go outside and we would meet with reporters during the recesses and answer questions, as so many of the reporters questions, the way they framed them. I’m like, did the NYPD feed those to you? Like what? So remember, one of the I do remember was the first day of the trial.

S15: But one of the first few days of the trial, during one of the breaks, a reporter asked, you know, said we just received these this data from the NYPD. So that, of course, proves it was fair that says that, you know, young black men, black teenagers are twice as likely to possess weapons in New York City as white teenagers.

S6: And so then I said, oh, really? So, you know, what are those numbers? Can you tell them? And the reporter said, well, you know, the NYPD found that one out of every thousand white boys possess a weapon.

S11: Two out of every thousand black and white, 0 2 out of every thousand. That really. That’s a lot.

S1: The judge wasn’t buying this spin either. When she eventually ruled Judge Shira Shin Lynn didn’t overturn stop and frisk, but she said it was being applied overwhelmingly against black and brown New Yorkers and that that was unconstitutional. So she appointed a monitor to oversee the use of stop and frisk by the NYPD. She recommended police wear body cameras and she said the community and the police should go through a joint remedial process to re-establish trust. How did Bloomberg respond to this decision?

S15: Well, he literally called her biased. I believe the press conference, the same day as the decision came out, he and Kelly were there. He accused the judge in land of bias. He said that she did not know anything about how policing works in New York City.

S19: Throughout the case, we didn’t believe that we were getting a fair trial. And this decision confirms that suspicion. And we will be presenting evidence of that unfairness to the appeals court. We’ll also be pointing out to the appeals court that Supreme Court precedents were largely ignored in this decision.

S15: And the part I found most hilarious, he suggested. You know, with his legal expertise, I didn’t realize he had that she had misinterpreted the Constitution, which, you know, that’s pretty ballsy for a non-lawyer to tell a federal judge and former law professor that she misinterpreted the constitution.

S1: But, hey, as this ruling came down, Bloomberg’s term as mayor was coming to an end. But that didn’t stop him from continuing to fight against Judge Shin Lindh’s decision by November of 2013.

S15: He knew two things. He knew one de Blasio was going to be the next mayor for sure. He had won the election and he knew that the appeals court had already set a schedule where the appeal would not be argued and heard until. February 2014 at the earliest, which at that point de Blasio is already in office. So Bloomberg literally had his lawyers file a motion to try to take that ability to drop the appeal away from de Blasio and have a rushed decision by the appeals court, not even based on a full record, which is, you know, the only time a court will ever do that if there’s like literally like a physical emergency where if you don’t rule now, you know, something terrible is going to happen and we won’t be able to fix it later. And that’s the argument that he and his lawyers tried to make. The appeals court said, we’re not going to rush this through. This is a very important case. It’s got an eight thousand page record. You can’t tell us to decide this on like, you know, a brief from each side without any argument or any documents that can we. We’re not going to do that. And so once that happened, that was kind of his moonshot. He couldn’t do anything else. De Blasio came in and in the end of June, the end of his first month in office, he he dropped the appeal.

S5: What did we learn once? Stop and frisk had had sort of plummeted to extent it has now.

S15: Well, I think what we learned is that contrary to what Michael Bloomberg and Ray Kelly said, crime did not go up. Chaos did not ensue. I mean, you know, they were they were saying back in late 2013 after this ruling that like the way I interpreted it, it was, you know, judge, gentlemen, you police accountability people. You’re going to have blood on your hands for this. I mean, that’s how that’s how I heard their rhetoric, because they believe that if officers had to cut back on their stops, crime was going to go up. And that definitely did not happen. Crime continue to go down and meanwhile, stops plummeted. I mean, you know, de Blasio, unlike Bloomberg, I think can can truthfully say that stops have gone down, you know, 95, 97 percent during his his time in office.

S17: And yet crime did not, you know, Spike, because of that, which I think shows us, again, that stop, question and frisk was not really having much of an impact on crime in New York City, but it was having, I think, a very damaging effect on the relationships between the police department and communities of color in New York.

S20: I know that there’s as part of the ruling, there’s someone overseeing. Stop and frisk now. Yes. Does that mean the accountability is there now?

S9: Yes and no.

S17: I mean, I think it’s there in that the NYPD has to, on a regular basis, report to this federal monitor about how things are going. Here’s the monitors team will go to, you know, observe the NYPD trainings and review their policies and their data. And and the racial disparities actually have not improved at all even since the time of trial, which is, I think for us the biggest concern that seems alarming.

S5: That was the whole reason for the decision.

S9: Yes. And, you know, I I think one of our biggest meaning are our team and our clients biggest disappointments with the monitor ship thus far.

S17: And I’m not blaming any particular person or group of people, but we don’t feel like the racial profiling aspect of Judge Simmons decision has been meaningfully dealt with yet. And I think we still have a lot of work to do on that. And I put myself in that. We I think the plaintiffs have a lot of work to do. The NYPD, the Monitor team, in really addressing the racial profiling part of what Judge Sheindlin decided and what she ordered.

S20: Does the mayor’s apology for you as the person who is butting heads for so long does it? Does it make any difference, given the racism of the policy as it was implemented?

S15: Does it make any difference that he wrote his apology, apologize for it. I mean, it doesn’t take away the harm that was caused for sure.

S10: And, you know, the generation of young man. I mean, I’ve spoken to so many, you know, kids who are now high school age or early college. You. They’ve just grown up in New York City, and that’s all they’ve known. Because, you know, they were born and came of age during the Bloomberg era, which lasted 12 years.

S15: And so then when you talk about, well, you know, I think since de Blasio’s come in, the NYPD has tried to prioritize, at least publicly.

S10: We’re trying to rebuild these relationships with the communities that we’ve, you know, alienated and and.

S21: Treated unfairly, that’s very hard for them to do because you have, I think, people who are like for for a decade or more, that’s how I’ve experienced policing. It’s very hard for them to trust when the police are now saying, oh, we’re not going to do that anymore. You know, you’re wearing the same uniform. It still says NYPD. You’re driving the same cars. It’s really hard for them to. I think. Believe that that’s not going to be how they’re treated anymore.

S22: Darrius Turny, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you. Darius Charney is a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Full disclosure, our kids are also in kindergarten together.

S23: All right. That’s the show. What next is produced by Mary Wilson. Jason De Leon, Marra Silvers and Danielle Hewett. I’m Mary Harris. If you were offered a long weekend. Welcome back. We’ll be back in your feed tomorrow.