Michael R. Bloomberg’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was knocked off stride Tuesday as critics pounded the former New York mayor for newly surfaced remarks in which he defended police “stop-and-frisk” tactics that targeted blacks and Latinos.
A recording of Bloomberg’s comments in 2015 to nearly 400 people in Aspen, Colo., have been posted online for five years, but began circulating widely this week on social media.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers and victims fit one M.O.,” Bloomberg told the Aspen Institute audience. “You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops: They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York. It’s true in virtually every city.”
An unintended consequence of frisking young black and Latino males, he continued, is people saying, “Oh, my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.”
“Yes, that’s true,” Bloomberg said. “Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.” One of the ways to get guns from those who are stopped, he added, “is to throw them against the wall and frisk them.”
After nearly two decades of defending the policy, Bloomberg apologized for it a week before he announced in November that he was running for president — and he did so again Tuesday.
But the backlash threatened to stall the billionaire’s momentum after weeks of building support among Democrats who favor a moderate as the party’s presidential nominee.
“This is a dangerously disturbing worldview,” Andrew Gillum, a black Democrat who ran for Florida governor in 2018, wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “Dangerous for me, my two sons and millions more just like us. Most troubling is that this sounds like a philosophy, not a singular policy.”
Nina Turner, national co-chair of the Bernie Sanders campaign, retweeted Gillum’s comments and added: “The color of our skin has been criminalized & exploited by far too many throughout the history of this country. This is dangerously disturbing indeed!”
Also criticizing Bloomberg was Tom Steyer, a fellow billionaire seeking the Democratic nomination. “The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them,” said Steyer, who has focused on building support from African Americans in South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary.
Symone Sanders, a senior advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign, called Bloomberg’s comments “sad and despicable,” according to the Associated Press.
The eagerness of Bloomberg’s rivals to criticize him comes as polls show he has risen into the top tier of contenders for the nomination to challenge President Trump. Bloomberg is skipping the first four Democratic contests, including Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, but has spent several hundred million dollars on advertising in states that hold primaries starting in March.
Black voters are a major constituency in the Democratic presidential race, especially some Southern states where they dominate the primaries. A strong African American turnout is also crucial for the Democratic nominee in general election battleground states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida.
For Bloomberg, New York police targeting of minorities has loomed as a potentially major obstacle to winning black support. In 2013, his final year as mayor, a federal judge ruled that stop-and-frisk breached the constitutional rights of minorities.
For weeks, he has been making a point to showcase his endorsements by more than two dozen African Americans, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
“I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities.”
He took credit for New York City programs that he said helped “young men of color stay on track for success” and improved “a school system that had been neglecting and underfunding schools in black and Latino communities for too long.”
Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, an African American who is a national co-chair of Bloomberg’s campaign, said the 2015 remarks in Aspen were “terrible,” but also “reflective of the dominant ideology that drove our criminal justice policy in this country up until this moment.” He called the backlash against Bloomberg “fake outrage.”
“I tell people all the time, as a young black man, where do I go if everyone has to have a pristine record on criminal justice in a country that for 300 years has had racist policies on policing and incarceration,” he said. “Do I go to the vice president, who wrote the crime bill? Do I go to Sen. Sanders, who voted for the crime bill?”
Biden and the Vermont senator have both faced criticism for a 1994 federal crime bill now seen by many Democrats and Republicans as perpetuating racial bias in the criminal justice system.
Melina Abdullah, a Cal State L.A. professor and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said Bloomberg’s 2015 remarks were not surprising.
“Hopefully the surfacing of the videos and comments will get, especially black folks, but people of color and progressives all over — will cause them to second-guess any support they may have given his candidacy,” she said.
Trump weighed in Tuesday morning, tweeting an audio link from podcaster Benjamin Dixon, who publicized Bloomberg’s 2015 speech on Monday. “Wow, Bloomberg is a total racist!” said Trump, whom many Americans see as racist.
Trump’s tweet was deleted without explanation.