Prominent black Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday called on Mike Bloomberg to more forcefully disavow his controversial stop-and-frisk policy amid newly unearthed footage of the former mayor backing the practice targeting minorities -- as Bloomberg accused the GOP of trying to exploit racial divisions.
Old video and audio footage dug up this week shows Bloomberg wholeheartedly defending the police profiling young New Yorkers – “male, minorities, 16-25” – as a way to cut down on crime. In another clip, he argued that minorities are stopped “too little” compared with white people.
The new footage “creates an opportunity -- it may create a necessity -- for a clear and concise explanation of why he did it and why he now denounces it,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is backing presidential primary rival Joe Biden.
Bloomberg, a Democratic candidate for president, kicked off his White House bid by apologizing for stop-and-frisk policing that disproportionately affected minorities in New York City and was panned by critics as racial profiling.
“It’s clear that lives were damaged as a result of stop and frisk,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y. “And I was one of the leading and most vocal opponents of it. And I do believe Mayor Bloomberg’s apology was genuine, but we have to move beyond talking the talk, and as I’ve indicated publicly we’d like to see Michael Bloomberg walk the walk.”
Jeffries, who says he’s “aggressively neutral” in the Democratic primary, hadn’t seen the unearthed footage but had heard fresh concern from the African-American community and progressive activists about Bloomberg's comments.
“We want to see actions taken to reverse some of the damage that was done by the out of control stop-and-frisk program that he presided over during his tenure as mayor," Jeffries said.
Bloomberg’s presidential primary rivals largely have not commented on the audio, but 2020 candidate Tom Steyer – who has made race a focal point of his bid – blasted Bloomberg in a written statement:
“Mike Bloomberg’s remarks in the video are extremely disturbing. The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them. We have a racist president in Donald Trump, and we must rise above that to unite our country. Mike needs to offer an explanation to voters, especially those in communities of color, who were victimized by 'stop and frisk' and continue to be victimized by racist policing tactics."
Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders also told Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday that the Bloomberg comments are “sad and despicable.”
President Trump and his allies immediately highlighted the footage. Trump tweeted that Bloomberg is a “racist," but then took down the post without explanation. His campaign manager Brad Parscale tweeted "#BloombergIsARacist" and his campaign senior adviser, Mercedes Schlapp, dug into Bloomberg on Fox News' "America’s Newsroom."
“Mike Bloomberg made the most horrific racist comments anyone could have made,” Schlapp said. “Basically putting all these minorities into one category calling them murderers and murder victims and basically saying that’s why we are sending all these cops over to these minority communities, it's horrific.”
Trump has been a vocal supporter of stop and frisk and said it “worked incredibly well” in New York and called for it to be implemented nationwide back in 2016.
Bloomberg Tuesday afternoon re-upped his apology and accused Trump of his own racist appeals.
“President Trump’s deleted tweet is the latest example of his endless efforts to divide Americans,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “I inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk, and as part of our effort to stop gun violence it was overused. By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should've done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities.”
Bloomberg affirmed his commitments to criminal justice reform and racial equity. He said he reduced incarceration by 40 percent and juvenile confinement by more than 60 percent, improved education for black and Latino communities and created an initiative to help young men of color stay on track for success, "which President Obama built on to create My Brother's Keeper."
“In contrast, President Trump inherited a country marching towards greater equality and divided us with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric," Bloomberg said. "The challenge of the moment is clear: we must confront this President and do everything we can to defeat him. The President’s attack on me clearly reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign. Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America. Between now and November, I will do everything I can to defeat you whether I am on the ballot or not.”
Bloomberg was a late entry into the presidential race and isn’t even competing in early states. But the billionaire used his limitless funds to blanket the airwaves and build a campaign that’s ready to compete in Super Tuesday states and beyond. Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said previously that Bloomberg winning the Democratic nomination would be the biggest threat to Trump’s reelection.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., dismissed the Bloomberg attacks as an attempt by Trump to sow division and suppress black voter turnout. He pointed to efforts the last cycle to exploit Hillary Clinton calling young criminals “super predators" and supporting her husband's 1994 crime bill -- which has been panned for sparking mass incarceration and exacerbating racial disparities in the justice system.
Democrats are too smart to fall into the GOP’s trap again, Meeks said.
"[Trump] knows he’s trying to lower that turnout. That’s what he’s doing now … African-Americans are smarter than that,” said Meeks, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate yet in the primary.
While Meeks disagreed with the stop-and-frisk policy, he believes Bloomberg’s motivation was genuine: trying to prevent innocent African-American youth from being killed by gunfire.
“Unlike this president who never admits he’s wrong, [Bloomberg] said it was a wrong policy, and it was absolutely wrong," Meeks said.
Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., said Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk legacy could hurt his presidential bid. The policy definitely hurt people of color, she said.
“He’s got to be prepared to explain all that stuff when he’s on stage in a presidential debate,” Velazquez said.
In an audio clip of the 2015 speech Bloomberg gave to the Aspen Institute, the billionaire acknowledged that "stop and frisk" targeted minority "kids" whom cops must throw "up against the wall" to disarm. The Aspen Times reported at the time that Bloomberg representatives asked the Institute not to distribute footage of his appearance.
"Ninety-five percent of murders- murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops," he said. "They are male, minorities, 16-25. That's true in New York, that's true in virtually every city (inaudible). And that's where the real crime is. You've got to get the guns out of the hands of people that are getting killed."
Trump campaign manager Parscale tweeted a separate clip of Bloomberg complaining in a 2013 radio interview that police stop white people "too much" and minorities "too little."
Parscale added in reference to the 2015 comments, "All the money in the world can't undo this."
Fox News' Joseph A. Wulfsohn contributed to this report.