Mayor Bloomberg took to the radio airwaves on Friday to defend the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy and quickly ramped up the rhetoric, by declaring : "I think we disproportionately stop whites too much, and minorities too little."
Bloomberg's argument is based on the fact that – according to police statistics -- 90 percent of murder suspects last year were black or Latino, while blacks and Latinos accounted for just 87 percent of police stops. Whites made up 7 percent of murder suspects but 9 percent of stops. But this tone-deaf "statistics don't lie" argument doesn't look at the sheer number of black and Latino residents who are being stopped-and-frisked: roughly 464,000 last year – with roughly 90 percent of them neither arrested nor ticketed. That's like the entire city of Miami getting searched by a police officer and then let go. Imagine the anger and embarrassment when you're patted down by the TSA agents at the airport; that's what innocent people are going through tenfold when they're being treated as if they've done something wrong in their neighborhood.
Among the many elected and civic leaders who pounced on Bloomberg's remarks was The Rev. Al Sharpton – who has had a cordial working relationship with the mayor during his administration. (It's a strong contrast to Rudy Giuliani who all but barred City Hall's doors to Sharpton and other black leaders.) Showing a prickliness toward Sharpton that he's never really displayed before, Bloomberg yesterday took a dig at him, saying he needs to focus on issues affecting minority communities: "You know there was a time when the Reverend Sharpton did that. Instead he got away from that, became a television star and doesn't seem to focus on kids who just don't have the education they need to compete and don't have a structure and family at home that can help."
The mayor apparently is also thinking hard about letting his money talk, with Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson telling the New York Post that the mayor's political action committee will "cast a wide net" and try to get City Council members to flip their votes on two controversial police monitoring bills that the Council passed last week. “The mayor believes actions have consequences, and [he] certainly hasn’t ruled out holding members accountable for their votes,” a source told the Post.
While the mayor's track record of using his fortune to help candidates and his pet causes have had mixed results over the years, money usually makes politicians nervous or happy depending on how it's being spent. I wouldn't be surprised if the mayor is able to convince at least one lawmaker to switch his or her vote in a veto override battle – scuttling legislation that would allow New Yorkers to sue the NYPD in state court over profiling. But the fruits of that battle may not be so tasty for the mayor if relations with the black and Latino political leadership continue to sour. For a mayor who has done remarkably well with race relations in his three terms in office, this fight could prove to be a very messy exit strategy that will take more than a radio interview to clean up.