'Throw Them Against The Wall And Frisk Them': Bloomberg's 2015 Race Talk Stirs Debate

Feb 11, 2020
Originally published on February 11, 2020 12:01 pm

Updated at 11:52 a.m. ET

Michael Bloomberg is distancing himself from a 2015 speech in which the former New York City mayor defended aggressive police tactics in minority neighborhoods.

Audio of the talk began recirculating online, generating fresh debate over stop and frisk, one of Bloomberg's signature policies as mayor, forcing him to back away from the remarks.

Bloomberg, in a statement, noted how he had apologized for championing stop and frisk before kicking off his presidential bid.

"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," Bloomberg said in the statement. "This issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity."

Bloomberg made the remarks at the Aspen Institute on Feb. 5, 2015. In the audio, he can be heard saying: "95% of your murders and murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities 15 to 25."

He continues: "That's true in New York. That's true in virtually every city in America. And that's where the real crime is. You've got to get the guns out of the hands of the people that are getting killed."

Bloomberg's idea of a solution? Flooding minority neighborhoods with law enforcement.

"People say, 'Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana who are all minorities.' Yes, that's true. Why? Because we put all the cops in the minority neighborhoods. Yes, that's true. Why'd we do it? Because that's where all the crime is. And the way you should get the guns out of the kids' hands is throw them against the wall and frisk them," Bloomberg says.

Both supporters of President Trump as well as progressive activists shared the speech on social media. Its resurfacing has brought new scrutiny about Bloomberg's views on criminal justice and minority communities as he spends hundreds of millions of dollars on his 2020 presidential bid. Indeed, a new Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed Bloomberg in third place nationally among Democrats, trailing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. Much of Bloomberg's gains in the poll come at Biden's expense.

At the time of the talk in 2015, The Aspen Times reported that Bloomberg's representatives sought to have video of the speech suppressed, asking the Aspen Institute to not distribute the footage. The institute agreed, but audio from the event in front of about 400 people was published by the conservative website The Daily Caller.

Responding to the comments, Stu Loeser, the former mayor's spokesman, told Newsday in 2015 that Bloomberg made the same kind of remarks while in office, defending the provocative statements as "indisputable, unfortunate facts."

"As he said hundreds of times, we need common-sense gun laws in Washington and policing focused on high-crime areas to stop them from getting killed," Loeser said in a statement at the time.

Before officially launching his run for the White House, Bloomberg delivered a surprising about-face and apologized for his support of stop and frisk.

"I can't change history. History, today, I want you to know that I realize back then, I was wrong," Bloomberg said in November.

The police tactic was upheld in a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court ruling as long as officers have "reasonable suspicion" that a crime may be afoot. But the practice has been assailed by critics who say officers abuse their discretion and overwhelmingly target minorities on false pretenses.

Bloomberg's previous advocacy of stop and frisk has been characterized as a vulnerability in his efforts to court the black and Hispanic vote in 2020. On Tuesday, President Trump tweeted — and then deleted — a post calling Bloomberg "racist." Bloomberg said Trump's now-deleted tweet is Trump's "latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans."

A federal court in New York in 2013 found that stop and frisk systemically violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of mostly black and Hispanic men in New York. The judge called the practice "indirect racial profiling" of young men of color.

Compared to 2011 levels, the use of stop and frisk by New York City police officers dropped 98%, the New York Civil Liberties Union found last year.

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