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…
As I said in my recent “blog news” post, I hope to focus on issues that are either misunderstood or “under the radar” during this election season.
One of those “under the radar” issues is the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg in New York City, especially since he is viewed as the “alternate to Bernie” (for those who are scared of Bernie Sanders). And, considering the fact that I lived in New York for nearly his entire tenure as mayor (with the exception of my freshman year and part of my sophomore year at college), I feel that I have something to offer on this under-the-radar issue. I feel it’s under the radar because, while certain elements of his past, such as stop-and-frisk, have been highlighted, many other elements of his time as mayor seem not to be discussed as much as they should be.
Some people may ask why these elements should be highlighted. After all, his tenure as mayor ended over six years ago. It’s relevant for three major reasons:
Since a mayor is a governmental executive, his time as mayor can give insights as to what sort of governmental executive he would be as President of the United States.
Many of the issues he faced as mayor, ranging from environmental issues to racism, are issues the country is grappling with right now.
Part of what he is running on, at least in his ads, is focused on his track record as mayor.
Since his record as mayor is relevant to the current presidential campaign, I will do a couple of blog posts on that over the next week: a post next Thursday (different from my usual schedule as I tend not to post new content except for blog news on a Thursday) and a post next Monday. This schedule is designed so that people are well-informed about Mayor Bloomberg before Super Tuesday on Tuesday, March 3rd. The posts will be relevant to various topics of justice, and will particularly focus on the wide range of injustices that happened while he was mayor (wider than what the mainstream media is even covering). Note that none of the injustices will go much outside the purview of him as a mayor; despite his record as a businessman being well-deserving of scrutiny, I will not focus on that aspect of him in my next two posts.
I am hoping that my mini-series (which is NOT the series that is in the works, according to a recent blog post I wrote—this is actually a bit of an impromptu series) can raise awareness of how Bloomberg was and what he stood/stands for, from a New Yorker’s perspective. Albeit, a perspective of a New Yorker who did not face the brutal consequences of his policies that, say, my Muslim friends experienced. But a New Yorker nevertheless.
From a young age, I was taught that as long as I didn’t look for trouble, I wouldn’t get in trouble with the police.
Thankfully, for me, that has been the case. I’ve never looked to cause any trouble, even with something relatively harmless like marijuana, and I haven’t gotten into trouble.
But because of institutional racism, which I defined in my introductory post in the institutional racism series as “racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions,” the story is often different for those who don’t look Caucasian.
For example, some of my brother’s elementary school friends who were people of color got into troubling situations with the police, even though they weren’t looking to cause trouble (yes, you read that correctly: elementary school). For example, these friends were often searched thoroughly by police under a practice in New York known as “stop-and-frisk,” even though there was zero evidence of their carrying weapons. On the other hand, you never heard similar tales from my brother’s and my white friends or from my Caucasian family. It was therefore no coincidence that the bias against people of color in stop-and-frisk was so severe that some people called it “walking while brown.”
These stories seemed to fit with the actual statistics on stop-and-frisk. For example, a May 2012 New York Times article cited by Forbes said that “85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.” With a statistic like this, there is validity to the claim that someone is stopped for “walking while brown.”
Readers might be looking at these statistics and thinking, “Fine…you have stories and statistics, but where does the institutional racism come in?” To find the answer, it’s important to look at how stop-and-frisk was justified—it was justified by saying that people who are deemed a threat need to be stopped. Hence, by using stop-and-frisk disproportionately on people of color, an institution (the police) was sending the racist message that a disproportionate number of people of color were a threat.
In contrast, similar stories are never heard of from light-skinned people like me. You see a white person sleeping in the common room at college? The thought is that, “Oh…the person has studied a ton. No big deal.” You see two white people at a Starbucks waiting to meet with someone? You don’t think anything of it, probably. But people of color doing these things are viewed as a threat by many people, law enforcement or not.
As I said in the beginning of this piece, I was taught from a young age that I would not get into trouble if I didn’t seek trouble. As it turns out, though, I might not have gotten into trouble even if I had sought some trouble.
At the same time, I recognize that it is a different story for friends of mine who are people of color. It is a different story because of the startling disparities between the way whites are policed and the way people of color are policed. Indeed, institutional racism exists in the way that I, and others, are policed.
Update as of November 24, 2019: While this series on institutional racism ended long ago, the issues I addressed in this post have become relevant again due to the renewed scrutiny on Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policy while he was Mayor of New York City. In case you were wondering, the stories and statistics I have of stop-and-frisk in this post are from Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in New York. The current scrutiny over this tactic exists because he declared his candidacy for President of the United States today, just one week after he apologized for his use of the tactic while he was mayor.
I am hoping that this post serves as a reminder that, regardless of his apology and regardless of whether you believe in his apology, the institutional racism that led to Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk is still relevant.
As for readers who didn’t expect a post from me until after Thanksgiving, sorry about that. I figured that this post is too relevant not to re-publish right now.