Bloomberg’s Crazy Comments: What We Talk About When We Talk About Stop-and-Frisk

Stop and Frisk NYC Bloomberg

Bloomberg last week said some crazy-sounding shit: “we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they’re saying. I don’t know where they went to school, but they certainly didn’t take a math course, or a logic course.” In the context of the stop-and-frisk debate we’ve been having as a city for the last few years—and are now having more intensely as part of the mayoral race—it was tone-deaf and unhinged. We’ve all heard the appalling statistics: that 86 percent of those stopped and frisked are black or Latino (though blacks and Latinos account for less than 30 percent of the population), that 88 percent of those stopped were released without even a summons. Bloomberg doubled down on his comment over the weekend, insisting he’s got the statistics to back it up. What are they? “Whites were involved in 9% of police stops in 2012,” the Wall Street Journal reports, “but were identified as 7% of murder suspects.” That two percent difference seems statistically insignificant, but it also seems to confuse the conversation.

When we talk about stop-and-frisk, we’re not talking about the police pursuit of described murder suspects. We’re technically talking about a policing tool that stops people on the street whom the NYPD reasonably suspects has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. (Critics accuse the program of being broadly implemented beyond reasonable suspicion, which seems fair as 88 percent of the people the police stop are let go without even a summons!) The people seeking to assume Bloomberg’s job in 2014 have roundly criticized the mayor for being insensitive and factually incorrect. I don’t know, I guess Bloomberg’s numbers add up sort of? But they’re the wrong numbers. The problem is that the two sides are having two different conversations, which doesn’t help anyone trying to have a serious debate about the way our police do their jobs.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart


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