Michael Bloomberg says California is crucial to his presidential campaign. As a result, the level of support he receives in the state's Super Tuesday primary on March 3 will serve as a referendum on Californians' views toward the racist policing tactics he enforced as mayor of New York City.
Bloomberg's support for the controversial "stop-and-frisk" policy became a hot topic this week after podcaster Benjamin Dixon released audio of the former mayor bragging about it. The tape is explosive.
In a speech delivered at the elite Aspen Institute in 2015, Bloomberg talks cavalierly about dehumanizing young black and Latino men in New York.
"You throw them up against the walls and frisk them," he said.
"You can just take a description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops," he continued. "They are male, minorities, 16 to 25. That's true in New York, that's true in virtually every city."
As mayor, Bloomberg systematically violated the civil rights of young men of color. A black or Latino man was no longer considered a citizen by his city government. He was considered a dangerous murder suspect to be thrown against a wall and searched - regardless of whether or not they had done anything wrong, and in spite of their constitutional rights.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled the policy unconstitutional. In her ruling, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said men of color were being stopped and searched by police because they had bulges in their pockets that turned out to be their wallets, according to the New York Times.
At stop-and-frisk's peak, New York police conducted hundreds of thousands of searches a year.
"The outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cellphone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search," said Judge Scheindlin.
Bloomberg blasted her and accused her of denying the city a fair trial, defiantly proclaiming his continued support of the policy. Two years later at the Aspen Institute, the audio reveals, Bloomberg was still crowing about his decision to systematically dehumanize men of color. (Major crimes continued to decline in New York after Mayor Bill de Blasio shifted away from stop and frisk, proving the tactic unnecessary.)
Last November, Bloomberg suddenly apologized for stop and frisk and launched his campaign.
Listening to the tape, I find it hard to believe he's really contrite. More likely: Bloomberg's not sorry at all. He only apologized because polls showed his support for stop and frisk would hurt his political ambitions.
Bloomberg is lucky the tape didn't emerge before his recent swing through Sacramento, Calif. He might have received a very different reception in a community that rose up to change police use-of-force laws after officers killed an unarmed man named Stephon Clark in 2018. Police mistook Clark's cellphone, rather than his wallet, for a gun.
The Aspen Institute tape would have ended any Democratic campaign in normal times, but these are not normal times. With Joe Biden failing and Sen. Bernie Sanders rising, panic has seized some quarters of the Democratic Party. Faced with what they see as the real possibility of a Trump reelection, some Democrats are shifting their attention to Bloomberg, clinging to a theory that only a billionaire can beat a (supposed) billionaire.
Bloomberg's strategy - saturating the nation in ads at a cost quickly approaching half a billion dollars - has influenced this belief. His massive wealth has also greased the skids for surprising endorsements from Democrats who ought to know better. He's surged to third place in national polls and has risen to fourth place in California.
Money talks, but so does the leaked audio. It provides a much-needed reality check. It's a glimpse of who Bloomberg really is behind the scenes when he's not running for office and doesn't need people of color.
I like Mike. His crusades against climate denial, sugary drinks and tobacco show a genuine concern for health. I also think people are better than the worst thing they've ever said or done. Yes, I'd rather have him in the White House than Donald Trump.
But has it really come to this? Are we so beaten down that we will ignore systematic racist brutality if the guy spewing it is a billionaire who claims he can beat the other billionaire?
If so, I have some bad news about the future.
A win for Bloomberg would still be a win for Trump. That's because Trump has lowered our standards to such a degree that some are now fine with a former Republican buying the 2020 Democratic nomination despite his on-the-record racism.
To win, Bloomberg needs a strong showing in California on March 3. While other Democratic candidates have pinned their hopes on early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, Bloomberg is banking on the Golden State. He's hiring 800 staffers here and opening 20 campaign offices.
"California, as you know, has the most delegates, and we're going to do everything that we can to win them," Bloomberg said during an event in Fresno, Calif.
In honor of the countless people he humiliated and violated with stop and frisk for no reason other than their skin color, California voters should consider it a moral duty to disappoint him.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gil Duran is California Opinion Editor for The Sacramento Bee.
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