Former New York mayor and current Democratic Party presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has a dark authoritarian history. That is not in dispute.
Writing in a November 2019 edition of The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf wrote a comprehensive piece about why past authoritarian policies and practices implemented by Bloomberg during his three terms as New York City’s mayor should disqualify his current presidential bid.
Bloomberg’s NYPD Engaged in Mass Racial Profiling
Friedersdorf opened his piece with these 2012 objections leveled by New York City’s Civil Liberties Union about the former mayor’s handling of the state’s “stop and frisk” policy:
“’The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino. More than 4 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2011 … Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports.’”
“Stop and frisk,” which has historical roots in English common law, was a New York statute that became effective on July 1, 1964. The statute was held constitutional two years later by a New York court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court in a landmark 1968 decision, Terry v. Ohio, upheld the law enforcement practice of stop and frisk. In a companion case that same year, the Supreme Court in Sibron v. New York explicitly upheld New York’s stop and frisk statute.
NYPD’s Application of Stop and Frisk Unlawful
It was not until August 12, 2013, that U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, in a 237-page opinion, declared the New York statute unconstitutional because its application created “indirect racial profiling” that impermissibly resulted in “disproportionate and discriminatory stopping of blacks and Hispanics.”
In that detailed opinion, Judge Scheindlin stressed that his unconstitutional conclusions about the stop and frisk statute was not based on its “effectiveness as a law enforcement” tool but rather on whether the NYPD’s “behavior” in carrying out the statute was itself unconstitutional.
Stop and Frisk is Demeaning and Humiliating
In effect, the federal judge found that the NYPD acted in a lawless manner in carrying out the constitutional intent of “stop and frisk.”
“ … it is important to recognize the human toll of unconstitutional stops,” Judge Scheindlin wrote. “While it is true that any one stop is a limited intrusion in duration and deprivation of liberty, each stop is also a demeaning and humiliating experience. No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life. Those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color, and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out when many of them have done nothing to attract the unwanted attention. Some plaintiffs testified that stops make them feel unwelcome in some parts of the City, and distrustful of the police. This alienation cannot be good for the police, the community, or its leaders. Fostering trust and confidence between the police and the community would be an improvement for everyone.”
There is little dispute, and much less doubt, that both Bloomberg and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani used the stop and frisk law to enhance their politically motivated tough on crime-agendas. That is unconstitutional authoritarianism, plain and simple.
Bloomberg’s History of Authoritarianism
Bloomberg’s tendency to use the power of public office in an authoritarian way was also evidenced by his handling of community protesters involved lawful civil disobedience.
First, in 2003 hundreds of New York residents wanted to protest the impending invasion of Iraq by U.S. forces. The mayor cited only “vague security concerns,” according to City Lab, in denying the protesters the right to march in protest. He only allowed them to assemble in a small stationary area where their voices could not be heard.
Again, in 2004 the mayor’s NYPD took what City Lab called “an especially aggressive approach to handling protesters” at the Republican National Convention, at which the then Republican mayor gave a speech supporting the re-election of George W Bush. Although not single protester engaged in any violent behavior, the NYPD nonetheless arrested 1,800 protesters who were held until the RNC convention was over. Arrested protestors were detained in poor conditions in a warehouse facility that came to be known as “Guantanamo on the Hudson.” The city eventually settled a law suit for over 18 million dollars to plaintiffs who alleged civil rights violations, which including the 16 million in legal fees, costing the taxpayers approximately 35 million
Finally, in the early morning hours of November 15, 2011, Bloomberg sent the NYPD into New York City’s Zuccotti Park where they forced Occupy Wall Street protesters camped there to clear out of the park or face immediate arrest. Bloomberg’s office said the removal of protesters was a “temporary” move necessary to clean up the park. The problem with that explanation was that the NYPD effectively walled off the area to keep the media from covering what was a brutal police raid. Credible reports circulated that the NYPD beat “Occupiers” as they tried to leave the park.
Bloomberg’s Stasi-Styled Surveillance of Muslims
These heavy-handed tactics against legitimate civil disobedience protestors pale in scope and duration to what The Intercept recently described as Bloomberg’s “Stasi-style” surveillance against American Muslims. The surveillance, carried out by the NYPD’s “Demographics Unit,” targeted Islamic houses of worship and American Muslims’ businesses.
The Daily Beast reported on February 24, 2020 that the surveillance program began in 2003 and lasted until the mayor left office in 2013. This news outlet also reported that President Trump once praised Bloomberg for the mayor’s “Muslim surveillance program.”
In two federal lawsuits, the New York City ACLU, however, charged that the NYPD surveillance program was dedicated to total surveillance of the Muslim community in the greater NYC area and operated on the “unconstitutional premise that Muslim beliefs and practices are a basis for law enforcement scrutiny.” The civil liberties group said the NYPD used a wide array of informants and other surveillance techniques against the city’s Muslim community “without any indication whatsoever of criminal activity or any connection whatsoever of wrongdoing.”
The fundamental problem with the authoritarian program that the then Republican Mayor of New York City embraced, and direct decisions taken by Bloomberg during his three terms in the mayor’s office is this: they were all directed primarily against people of color, free-speech protestors or specific religious groups. They were not isolated incidents. They were coordinated efforts driven by serious racial overtones with authoritarian motivations.
As Dean Obeidallah aptly summarizes, “Profiling by our government is just as wrong and painful when it’s based on religion as it is when it’s based on race and ethnicity.” Mr. Bloomberg did all three. That, we believe, disqualifies Michael Bloomberg as a legitimate candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to be President of the United States.