Speaking before congregants of the Christian Cultural Center in East New York last Sunday, Bloomberg said in recent months he has thought about where he “came up short” in his past.
“Over time, I’ve come to understand something that I’ve long struggled to admit to myself,” he said. “I got something important really wrong.
“I didn’t understand the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities,” Bloomberg added. “I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we all know, good intentions are not good enough.”
Under the Bloomberg administration, stop-and-frisk reached a peak in 2011, when 685,724 NYPD stops were recorded, according to data from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).
Of those stops, 350,743, or 53 percent, were of African-Americans. More than 223,700, or 34 percent, were of Latino or Hispanic New Yorkers. About 88 percent, or 605,328, of those stops were of innocent people.
In August 2013, Judge Shira Scheindlin found that stop-and-frisk, which Bloomberg touted as a major key to lowering crime, was unconstitutional and violated the rights of minorities.
Bloomberg appealed the decision, but his successor, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on ending the era of stop-and-frisk, dropped the appeal.
Under de Blasio, the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk declined sharply. In the first half of 2019, 7,101 stops were recorded, according to NYCLU data. Of those stops, 4,795, or 68 percent, were innocent.
More than 4,200 were of black New Yorkers, and more than 2,000 were of Latino or Hispanic New Yorkers.
Bloomberg acknowledged in his speech that crime continued to drop as the city reduced stops.
“I now see that we should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops,” the former mayor said. “I wish we had, and I’m sorry we didn’t.
“Today, I want you to know I realize I was wrong,” he added, “and I am sorry.”
On Sunday night, de Blasio said on CNN that “people aren’t stupid.” He said they can figure out whether someone is “honestly addressing an issue” or just “acting out of convenience.”
“For years, many of us said, when he was mayor of New York City, this is hurting people,” he said. “This is creating division, it’s creating a rift between our police and our community.
“There are many points where he could have acknowledged this,” de Blasio added. “It seems awfully strange that it took till now.”
Bloomberg, 77, has filed paperwork to run in Alabama and Arkansas’s Democratic presidential primaries, bypassing the early states in the nominating process, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
De Blasio said that his predecessor’s longtime opposition to changing his ways on stop-and-frisk were “part of a pattern.” Bloomberg opposed a law to ban racial profiling and another law to create an independent inspector general for the NYPD.
Even in recent years, President Donald Trump became a “big booster” of stop-and-frisk, which de Blasio said should have signaled to Bloomberg it was time to reconsider the policy.
“Millions of New Yorkers were hurt by this policy for years,” he said. “Maybe some will forgive, but none will forget.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who sponsored bills to ban racial profiling and create an inspector general for the NYPD when he was in the City Council, said in a statement that the apology came “a decade late and on the eve of a presidential run.”
“It is not nearly enough to erase the legacy of the systemic abuses of stop, question and frisk on the people whose lives were harmed by over-policing, nor the communities criminalized by it,” said Williams.
The public advocate noted that as recently as this year, Bloomberg defended his position on the policing tactic. He said the former mayor should instead focus on “meaningful action,” such as developing and advocating a plan for restorative justice in those communities.
Williams added that it wasn’t just stop-and-frisk that was detrimental to low-income New Yorkers and communities of color, but also Bloomberg’s policies on housing, education and more.
“I expect a deep reflection on those policies in the coming weeks and months,” he said.
Other elected officials were not as harsh on Bloomberg.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is planning a mayoral bid in 2021, said in a statement that he sat down with Bloomberg the morning before he made the apology.
“It’s important we learn from our past and move toward a more just future,” he said.
Adams, who served in the NYPD for 22 years before running for office, testified against the overuse of stop-and-frisk in Floyd v. City of New York, the case where the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.
He said his years of policing taught him that the NYPD can keep the city safe “without leaving people in disgrace,” as well as the importance of reforming from within the department.
“An apology can never erase the humiliation and trauma that hundreds of thousands endured from abuses of stop and frisk,” Adams said. “What it can do is provide a spark for greater healing along the long arc of history bending toward justice.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s apology moves in that direction,” he added. “I have further encouraged him to commit himself and his organization to the restorative justice and community engagement work needed both here and across our country.”