Had they been battle rappers rather than Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg would almost certainly have been booed off the stage in the Nevada debate, excoriated by his peers for among other things, his administration’s “stop-and-frisk” policy that terrorized Gotham’s Blacks and Latinos.
In his first debate, the billionaire publisher offered the most tepid and unconvincing responses to the withering assault, defending stop-and-frisk as a sound law-enforcement policy “but it got out of control.” I lived in New York for Bloomberg’s final two terms in office and witnessed Manhattan’s biblical transformation, from a hive of tribal energy and cultural expression into the world’s largest gated community that is hostile to the working class generally, and people of color specifically.
Yet while I am loath to give Mad Mike any useful advice, I do think that he should return fire next time by borrowing a page, perhaps, from Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the Republican nomination.
Here is how he might more effectively respond to criticisms on his law-enforcement policies leveled by his Democratic rivals:
“Was stop-and-frisk a racist policy that unfairly, and unconstitutionally brutalized Black and Brown men in New York City? Of course it was and we all know it. But who on this stage wants to cast the first stone from their glass encampment? Joe Biden, who got his start in national politics by railing against integrated schools, and who authored the draconian 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill that has done more to swell the nation’s prison population than any single piece of legislation in American history?
Surely not Senator Klobuchar, who as the top prosecutor in Minneapolis sent a Black teenager to jail for life for the accidental killing of an 11-year-old girl. There was, according to the Associated Press, “no gun, fingerprints, or DNA. Alibis were never seriously pursued. Key evidence has gone missing or was never obtained, including a convenience store surveillance tape that . . . (some) say would have cleared him.”
And I am sure the Black residents of South Bend, Indiana would find Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s reproach of me for racial insensitivity curious, given his firing of a popular African American police chief and his support for a White sergeant in his police department who fatally shot an unarmed 54-year old Black man.
Call me a cynic, but I think it odd that I would be singled out for my brutalization of Blacks in a country that has routinely brutalized Blacks for 400 years, by a party that has doubled down on its “get-tough-on-crime” mantra since Bill Clinton won the White House 27 years ago in an effort to woo White voters enthralled with Ronald Reagan’s articulation of White supremacy.
And for anyone in our audience who thinks I am lying, ask yourself this: my last two terms as mayor coincided roughly with the Obama administration’s two terms in office; if everyone was so concerned with my mistreatment of African Americans, why didn’t Vice President Biden and his boss instruct their Justice Department to intervene?”
At issue here is not Bloomberg’s innocence, but White guilt that stretches back to chattel slavery, and a fear as old as the Republic of the fire next time. The historian John Hope Franklin wrote:
“Even before the war, White Southerners had frequently entertained a wild nightmarish fear that the slaves would rise up, slay them, and overthrow the institution of slavery. It had happened in Haiti. Perhaps it would happen here. In 1865, Southern Whites “knew” that there was nothing to hold back the tide. Wild rumors flashed through the South that the freedmen would strike in vengeance. Some Whites were even certain of the date. It would be New Year’s Day 1866, they said. How could they keep their minds on rebuilding when their former slaves were poised to complete the destruction?”
The custodian of White anxiety is the criminal justice system, which is designed and upgraded to mete out maximum punishment to Blacks while affording maximum protection to Whites. Consider the proliferation of so-called Stand Your Ground Laws that began to criss-cross the country at almost exactly the same time that Blomberg was ratcheting up “stop-and-frisk”
Since 2006, 33 states have passed “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are based on a 400-year old British common law requiring a claimant to demonstrate a defensive posture before using lethal force dating back to the early 1600s. The Castle Doctrine, however—a man’s home is his castle—provides an exemption in the case of an intruder or burglar.
“Stand Your Ground” laws nonsensically expand the legal justification for lethal self-defense and in giving prosecutors broad discretion, the law grants Whites a license to kill an unarmed Black or Brown man if they feel threatened. For all practical purposes, the consequence for killing an unarmed African American in Florida is often less than that for killing a beaver in Maine.
In fact, in fending off his rivals, perhaps Bloomberg should execute the first “mic drop” in presidential debate history, and walk off the stage after concluding with a line often attributed to Oscar Wilde: “All criticism is a form of autobiography.”
Jon Jeter is a veteran freelance journalist, essayist and social critic.