In a fifth day of rising rhetoric against City Council legislation crimping a police tactic that brought murder rates down to historic lows, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday that police stop whites more and blacks less than is indicated by the average percentage of murder victims in each racial group.
In his weekly radio appearance Friday, Bloomberg repeated his previous assertions that The New York Times and The Associated Press have led the charge that culminated in the council bill that passed in the middle of the night Wednesday. The bills, if they survive a promised veto, would appoint an outside inspector over the New York Police Department and broaden the criteria to sue police for the divisive stop-question-and frisk tactic.
“There is this business, there’s one newspaper and one news service, they just keep saying, ‘Oh it’s a disproportionate percentage of a particular ethnic group,’” Bloomberg told host John Gambling.
“That may be,” he conceded, “but it’s not a disproportionate percentage of those who witnesses and victims describe as committing the murder. In that case, incidentally, I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say. I don’t know where they went to school but they certainly didn’t take a math course. Or a logic course.”
Responding to liberal and minority groups who demanded an apology, as well as some of the Democratic candidates for mayor, Bloomberg’s spokesman Marc LaVorgna said the critics were “fabricating outrage over an absolutely accurate comment.”
“What they should be outraged by is the number of minorities who are being killed and that successful police efforts to save minority lives are being hampered,” LaVorgna said.
Bloomberg said that the stops’ demographics should be assessed against suspect descriptions, not the overall population. His office told Politicker Friday that more than 90 percent of murder suspects are black or Latino, with only 7 percent of them white. In contrast, 87 percent of stops are black or Latino — less than the proportion of what police would be searching for — while whites are 9 percent of stops.
“The cops’ job is to stop [people in] the groups fitting the description,” Bloomberg said. “It’s society’s job to make sure that no one group is disproportionately represented as potential perpetrators.”
However, the tactic’s foes accused the mayor of using “irresponsible rhetoric,” while some mayoral hopefuls chastised him.
On the extreme end, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Flatbush) scheduled a press conference Sunday, where he “will put forth federal intervention as the only option to protect the constitutionality of law-abiding citizens.”
Among the mayoral contenders, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio sent supporters an email rapping Bloomberg’s remarks, while calling himself the sole mayoral candidate who will end the stop and frisk tactic. City Comptroller John Liu issued a statement calling them “insensitive, outrageous, and just plain weird.” Rival and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson, who is black but said he wants to keep aspects of the policing approach, termed Bloomberg’s comments insulting and called on him to apologize.
“What he seems to indicate to the hundreds of thousands of people who have been unnecessarily stopped and frisked is, ‘We’re sorry we didn’t stop more people,’” Thompson said.
Bloomberg did not respond to a call from Al Sharpton, a longtime NYPD foe and a former race agitator in the 1990s, for him to apologize for the comments.
The brewing battle comes as numbers show New York City on pace to record fewer than one homicide per day in 2013, an achievement unparalleled by any large city in American history.
Through Thursday, the half year mark of 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that there were 154 homicides in the city, a decline of 24 percent from the same period last year, when the city set a record low of 419 murders. Just 23 years ago, homicides in the Big Apple peaked at more than 2,200, or about six a day.
Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California who has studied New York crime, said that as opposed to a 2009 study of his which credited NYPD policies, there was no easy answer to explain the numbers.
“What we have now is good news without a ready explanation,” Zimring said.
NYPD officials credit stop-and-frisk, as well as the policing policy implemented in 2002 which deploys officers to areas identified as the most violent.
The more controversial of the council bills allows people to sue police in state court for policies that disproportionately affect people in an expanded set of protected categories, if that targeting does not serve a legal goal. Supporters say that it will not bring an avalanche of lawsuits since it only allows the plaintiff to sue for changes, not financial penalties.
Bloomberg reiterated Friday that he would veto the legislation. Although both bills passed with a veto-proof majority, Bloomberg and his allies may not have a difficult time sustaining his veto, expected within 30 days.
While the bill establishing an inspector general passed with 40 votes, six more than needed to override a veto, the racial profiling bill passed with exactly 34 votes in favor. If Bloomberg could peel off a single vote, the law will die.
“People may vote for a bill and then be willing to maintain the mayor’s veto,” Bloomberg said at a news conference Thursday. But with the budget already passed last week, he has lost a major tool of persuasion in his negotiations with council members.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a close ally of Bloomberg’s the past eight years, said she will not help the mayor persuade a council member to switch sides.
“No, and I’m confident that the veto will be overridden,” Quinn, who voted for the inspector but not the profiling bill, told Capitol New York.
But the billionaire mayor may resort to a tactic he employed recently to force the U.S. Senate to pass a gun control bill: using his own fortune, he ran ads criticizing nay votes in their own states. He may also use the promise of future political support, which he utilized successfully in previous years.
An additional shot in the fight to preserve police’s ability to perform their duties came Friday. The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest police union, said that no Council member who voted in favor of either bill “will have a free ride in the next election.”
PBA President Patrick Lynch said if the bills become law, they intend to target “pro-crime” lawmakers in the upcoming election.
“We intend to target … council members for defeat in the upcoming election,” Lynch said, “supporting their opponents to the greatest extent possible.”
The head of the PBA, which represents about 50,000 active and retired NYPD officers, said they are in the process of setting up a fund to reach out directly to voters, educating them on what powers the bills contain.
Five sitting councilman on Thursday lost the support of another police union, the Detectives Endowment Association. The DEA said that Dan Garodnick, Inez Dickens, Mark Weprin, Sara Gonzalez and Mathieu Eugene will regain their support if they sustain the veto.
Brad Lander, who together with Jumaane Williams sponsored both police bills, said he was not aware of any councilman threatened or induced to change their vote. But he agreed it will be a challenge for members in the face of pressure from City Hall.
“They kept pushing back and pushing back and pushing back, and this is a mayor who is accustomed to being listened to,” said Lander, a Democrat who represents parts of Boro Park and chair of the council’s progressive caucus.
“They always just need one person,” said Williams, a Flatbush Democrat. He said that his and Lander’s strategy will be to speak individually with council members and going over the text of the bills.