In a bizarre column published just hours before the first Democratic debate to feature Michael Bloomberg, the judge who struck down the former New York City mayor's most controversial policy offered a defense — of sorts — of the billionaire mogul.
"In 2013, I ruled in Floyd vs. City of New York that the tactics underlying the city’s stop-and-frisk program violated the constitutional rights of people of color," wrote former U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin. "While Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York, black and Latino people were disproportionately stopped, and often frisked, millions of times, peaking at 690,000 in 2011. After my ruling, the number of stops plummeted to 11,000 in 2018. And crime did not rise."
While she concluded the policy he embraced — and defended up until he was ready to become a presidential candidate — was unconstitutional, she said she doesn't think it makes him a racist.
"Many people are wondering — is he a racist?" she explained. "I don’t think so. Not if you look at many other valuable things he has done for minorities. I don’t believe he ever understood the human toll of stopping black and Latino men, 90 percent of which did not result in a summons or arrest. But the stops were frightening, humiliating and unwarranted invasions of black and brown people’s bodies."
It was a perplexing defense and one that show's an extremely superficial understanding of racism. Many racists throughout the ages have held pernicious views about people of color and other minorities, while also, in a deeply patronizing way, enacting some policies that were seen as benefiting the group they helped marginalize. A segregationist who worked on securing better funding for black-only schools — while still insisting that its students be entirely separated from white students — would nevertheless still be a racist.
And precisely the fact that, as Scheindlin argued, Bloomberg did not understand "the human toll of stopping black and Latino men" is evidence of his gross racism. He almost certainly would have understood the impact if it had happened to people who looked like him.
However, she wasn't entirely full of praise for Bloomberg. Though she dismissed the idea that he was a racist, she wrote: "The most I can say is he had a pure heart but an empty head; the stop-and-frisk program was very poorly executed."