Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg stunned congregants Sunday when he apologized for his administration’s reliance on stop-and- frisk policing, telling a crowd of Black churchgoers, “I was wrong.”
The mea culpa brought an end to Bloomberg’s years-long defense of the controversial practice, which disproportionately targeted Black folks and Latinos, the New York Daily News reported. The flip-flop also comes as he readies to enter the Democratic presidential primary.
“I now see that we could and should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops,” Bloomberg told congregants at Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood this weekend. “I wish we had, and I’m sorry that we didn’t.”
“However, today I want you to know that I realized back then that I was wrong and I’m sorry,” he continued.
The apology came during Bloomberg’s first speech since taking steps to hop headfirst into the presidential race. According to the Daily News, the ex-mayor has already filed the paperwork to be in the Democratic primary in Arkansas and Alabama, opening the door for a 2020 run.
Bloomberg has yet to formally announce his presidential bid.
Stop and frisk, which allows police to search those they suspect of engaging in criminal activity or carrying a weapon, reached a record high of 685,000 cases in 2011, during Bloomberg’s final term. Data from the New York Civil Liberties Union shows that Black and Latino New Yorkers accounted for 54 percent and 34 percent of stops that year, respectively.
The city saw a decrease in the use of stop and frisk after current mayor Bill De Blasio, who championed the reduction effort, took office in 2014. The practice had been at the center of a long-running federal lawsuit, Floyd v. the City of New York, which argued the policy was discriminatory toward Black and Brown residents — a claim the NYPD strongly denied, the New York Post reported.
In 2013, a Manhattan federal judge ruled the policy was unconstitutional and essentially a form of “indirect racial profiling,” prompting the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee reforms.
Bloomberg blasted the decision at the time and continued his full-throated defense of the practice in the years after he left political office.
“What does she know about policing? Absolutely zero,” Bloomberg, who was in the final months of his mayorship, griped during a radio interview. “It’s easy for somebody in a court to say, ‘Oh [the cop] should’ve done this or should have done this.’ ”
The ostensible presidential hopeful sang a much different tune at the majority-Black church on Sunday, saying that while his intentions were pure, he had gone about addressing the city’s violent crimes the wrong way.
“I was totally focused on saving lives. But as we know, good intentions aren’t good enough,” Bloomberg told parishioners. “The fact is, far too many people were being stopped while we tried to [reduce crime] and the overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino.”
The former mayor noted that “because the number of stops of innocent people had been so high, resentment had build up, and we eroded what we had worked so had to build — trust.”
Bloomberg’s speech was met with applause from the crowd, who were once skeptical about his being there but later voiced their approval of his redress.
“I think his efforts to do things differently and admit his mistakes are applaudable,” said Keith Gaunlett, 41, of Crown Heights, according to the Post. “The fact that [he] said it in public, that’s not easy to do.”
Local accountant Diane Mullins told the New York Daily News she’s looking forward to Bloomberg’s rumored run.
“He realized he didn’t do everything right,” she said of the ex-mayor’s apology. “He reflected on it.”
Elected officials weren’t as impressed. Bloomberg’s successor, de Blasio, blasted the former mayor’s timing as “transparent and cynical,” while the Police Benevolent Association said the apology came “too little, too late.”
Bloomberg faced similar criticism online.
“Oh, now @MikeBloomberg apologizes,” Rolling Stone writer Jamil Smith tweeted. “For years, he’s defended ‘stop-and-frisk,’ the racially discriminatory and ineffective police tactic that he backed and expanded as NYC’s mayor. Now that he is running for president and needs black votes, he’s sorry.”
Oh, now @MikeBloomberg apologizes. For years, he has defended ”stop-and-frisk,” the racially discriminatory and ineffective police tactic that he backed and expanded as NYC’s mayor. Now that he is running for president and needs black votes, he’s sorry. https://t.co/Sgf6RlXwCx
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) November 17, 2019
NBC News legal analyst Maya Wiley noted “that as recently as Jan 2019, #Bloomberg was defending #StopAndFrisk despite #NYC crime remaining low since we ended the policy.”
On Sunday, Bloomberg said the distrust caused by the policy “still bothers me” and that he’s working to regain the community’s confidence.