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Bloomberg Under Fire for Embracing Stop and Frisk Policy in 2015 Audio

Michael Bloomberg is under fire for resurfaced comments in which the Democratic presidential candidate says the way to bring down murder rates is to “put a lot of cops” in minority neighborhoods because that’s where “all the crime is.”

The billionaire and former New York City mayor made the comments at a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute, as part of an overall defense of his support for the controversial “stop and frisk” policing tactic that has been found to disproportionately affect minorities.

Bloomberg launched his presidential bid late last year with an apology for his support for the policy. He’s taking an unconventional approach to the campaign, bypassing the traditional early states and gaining attention by flooding the airwaves with hundreds of millions of dollars in ads. He’s spent recent days courting black voters whose support will be crucial to winning the Democratic nomination and will begin a campaign swing through the South on Wednesday.

Seeking to blunt any political fallout from the comments, Bloomberg said Tuesday the remarks “do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”

But the audio of his Aspen speech highlights his embrace of the policy just a few years ago and suggests he was aware of the disproportionate impact of stop and frisk on minorities. Bloomberg says that “95%” of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops.” To combat crime, he says, “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

In the audio, he acknowledges that focusing police forces in minority neighborhoods means minorities are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession but dismisses that as a necessary consequence. “Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is,” Bloomberg said.

And to “get the guns out of the kids’ hands,” Bloomberg says, police must “throw ’em against the wall and frisk ’em.”

“And they say, ‘Oh, I don’t want that. I don’t wanna get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun,” he says.

According to a report in the Aspen Times that year, Bloomberg blocked the release of video of the Aspen Institute appearance. But the Aspen Times reporter uploaded what appears to be the full audio online, and it drew renewed attention Monday after podcaster Benjamin Dixon circulated it on Twitter.

In his Tuesday statement, Bloomberg notes that he “inherited the practice of stop and frisk” from Rudy Giuliani’s administration and noted that by the time he left office at the end of 2013, he had significantly reduced its use. He said, “I should have done it faster and sooner.”

But stop and frisk expanded dramatically on Bloomberg’s watch, reaching a peak in 2011 when over 685,000 people were stopped, according to data from the American Civil Liberties Union. While its use declined significantly after that, Bloomberg stood by the program even in the face of widespread criticism and legal challenges.

Bloomberg has since distanced himself from the policy since launching his presidential campaign as part of a broader strategy aimed at appealing to minority voters. He’s also acknowledged his own white privilege and released policies focused on issues central to some African American communities, like black homeownership and maternal mortality rates.

But the comments gave Bloomberg’s political rivals an opportunity to pounce. Activist Tom Steyer, who is working aggressively to attract black voters in South Carolina ahead of that state’s Feb. 29 primary, called the comments “extremely disturbing.”

“The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them,” Steyer said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is also staking his campaign on a strong showing in South Carolina. His top adviser, Symone Sanders, called the comments “sad and despicable,” and said he “will have to answer for these comments.”

And President Donald Trump, who himself has supported stop-and-frisk policies, sent out a tweet with a clip of the audio, declaring, “Bloomberg’s a racist.”

Full Coverage: Election 2020
Trump later deleted the tweet, but in impromptu remarks to reporters in the Oval Office later Tuesday, he dismissed Bloomberg’s apology for supporting stop and frisk as “disingenuous.”

But Trump himself has long defended the tactic.

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