On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.
This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.
And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…
Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops. I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.
What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:
Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.
Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.
On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers. This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.
Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.
“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.
As I announced last Monday, I will be doing a couple of posts on what it was like to have current presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg as mayor (and particularly justice-related topics from his time as mayor). This is the first of two such posts, as honestly, I have too much material to fit into one post.
This first post will focus on his treatment of other people while he was mayor, particularly his treatment of people of color, Muslims, women, and the poor. Buckle up, because this is going to be rough…
While he has apologized repeatedly for the existence of stop-and-frisk under his police force while he was mayor, I think it’s difficult to talk about his time as mayor without talking about that practice. The practice, which allowed police to stop someone temporarily to search, question, and detain someone, disproportionately targeted people of color. Consider the fact that, in the 2010 United States Census, African Americans made up under 23 percent of the total New York City population but consistently accounted for over half of stops. My family’s experiences match up with these statistics—while my brother, and I, and our white friends, never got stopped-and-frisked, my younger brother heard horror stories of friends of color in middle school (kids who were 11 or 12 years old) getting stopped-and-frisked by the New York Police Department, even though they (like nearly 90% of those stopped at that time) were doing nothing wrong! Mayor Bloomberg may’ve apologized for the practice, but the apology does not undo the damage done to my brother’s friends who were stopped, among many others. The apology does not take away the fact that his police force basically treated black and brown kids like accused criminals.
Nor does the apology undo other racist practices under the Bloomberg administration. It does not undo the fact that Bloomberg’s education policies deepened segregation in New York City schools—something he has not apologized for to my knowledge. He also has not apologized for the fact that his Department of Education created policies that denied educational opportunities to people who were thought to be black, including my brother! He has not apologized for the disinvestment in public housing in New York City—relevant because the population of public housing in New York is overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic. And he has not apologized for saying that the end of redlining, “a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers,” led to the 2008 economic crisis.
People of color weren’t the only people the Bloomberg administration discriminated against. He had and still seems to have an Islamophobic streak, for Bloomberg’s New York Police Department also had extreme levels of surveillance of Muslims. When he repeatedly says that his one regret is stop-and-frisk, it also means that he does not regret the discrimination of Muslims through this surveillance. That’s very telling.
For those of my readers interested in women’s issues and women’s rights, Bloomberg repeatedly struggled with sexism while he was mayor. Here’s an excerpt from an article at The Atlantic, a lot of which includes remarks he made while he was mayor:
There’s more: Bloomberg reportedly saying to a journalist and the journalist’s friend, as he gazed at a woman at a holiday party, “Look at the ass on her.” (He denied having made that comment.) Bloomberg, according to a top aide, seeing attractive women and reflexively remarking, “Nice tits.” Bloomberg, mocking Christine Quinn, the then-speaker of New York’s City Council, for going too long between hair colorings. (“The couple of days a week before I need to get my hair colored,” Quinn once said, “he’ll say, ‘Do you pay a lot to make your hair be two colors? Because now it’s three with the gray.’”) Bloomberg mocking Quinn again, she said, for failing to wear heels at public events. (“I was at a parade with him once and he said, ‘What are those?’ and I said, ‘They’re comfortable,’ and he said, ‘I never want to hear those words out of your mouth again.’”)
The same article I just cited also went into the culture of sexism at his company, and it is no secret that Bloomberg faces numerous allegations of fostering a hostile work environment for women at his company (something Senator Elizabeth Warren exposed in the recent debate). While my piece focuses on what it was like to have him as mayor, I don’t want people to forget about the workplace hostility against many women at Bloomberg, the company.
As for the poor, Mayor Bloomberg advocated for policies that hurt the poor. He argued for a tax on sugary soft drinks, which would have disproportionately affected the poor. He defended the proposed tax, even though he acknowledged that the tax would disproportionately hurt the poor! That, along with a lack of investment in public housing (which I previously mentioned) and the increasing unaffordability of the city while he was mayor, show that he was not a friend of the poor.
There is probably even more that I’m missing here, but you probably get the point by now: unless you are white, somewhat wealthy, male, and not Muslim, Mayor Bloomberg was not an advocate for you.
And yet, I have even more injustices to say about Bloomberg as mayor even beyond his treatment of others. To be continued…
I went to a great elementary school from 5th to 8th grade, a high school I loved, and a great college. While I sometimes had small complaints, such as having too much homework or dealing with the stress of end-of-year exams, I was extremely lucky to get the education I received.
However, for several months in 2004, the educational system in New York viewed my family as a family of color (even though we’re white), and the results for a time cast uncertainty over where my younger brother would go to kindergarten.
This uncertainty was the result of institutional racism, or racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions.
The beginning of this story was during the 2003-04 school year, when my family was trying to get my younger brother into the kindergarten program at the public magnet school I went to at the time (which drew students from districts throughout New York City’s borough of Queens). What happened was that the school changed its “sibling policy”—the school previously had automatically admitted siblings of students already attending the school, but the policy changed so that siblings of students were limited to being somewhere between 10% to 20% of new student admissions.
The justification for this policy was to diversify the school—administrators viewed the school as drawing “too many” students from certain districts throughout Queens and “too few” students from other districts; the “too many” were usually from districts that predominantly had students of color, while the “too few” were usually from districts that predominantly had white students. In order to diversify the school, the sibling policy was changed so that the school didn’t get many more kids from districts drawing “too many” kids (mostly districts of color, as I said earlier). Indeed, as someone at the New York City Department of Education told my parents, administrators wanted more kids from places like Bayside and Douglaston (neighborhoods in Queens that were extremely white). In other words, they wanted more white kids at the school and fewer people of color.
At this point, you’re probably reading this and saying the following: “Now, wait a minute, Brendan…you’re white! You’re not a person of color! So what do you or your family have to do with all this commotion?”
Where we came into the commotion was that the school system viewed my entire family, including my brother, as people of color. Since I lived in a Queens neighborhood dominated by people of color, the system viewed my brother as a person of color and therefore as a person who would not achieve the goal of giving my school a more “diverse” student body (more white people). Basically, the educational institution in New York viewed my family as people of color for several months in 2004, and as a result my brother couldn’t get into the kindergarten program we wanted to get him into. My parents said nothing to argue with this misperception because they didn’t want to use our race to give my brother an advantage on the sole basis of the color of his skin.
Then things changed.… Once the educational powers that be saw me mark myself as “white” on a standardized test, they realized that my brother was probably also white and they suddenly offered him a seat at the school. It was too late, though, because my brother started kindergarten at a Catholic school he loved, and I transferred to that school.
The story ended on a positive note for my entire family because we had the money to pay for Catholic elementary school for my brother and me and avoid the public school system entirely after transferring.
However, as I’ve shared this particular story in talks with friends, I have found out about people who had similar issues in their own school systems, but were not so lucky because they were people of color who came from families without many economic resources. Indeed, institutional racism in education prevents some great kids from having the educational opportunities they deserve.