When it comes to the nation’s misguided approach to gun control–or lack thereof –New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a hypocrite.
Following a May report by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) –which revealed that stop-and-frisk of New York City residents had increased by 600 percent since Bloomberg took office, and was focused almost exclusively on young African-American and Hispanic males–Bloomberg defended the practice, despite the fact that it amounts to defacto racial profiling.
The data showed that 87 percent of those stopped in 2011 were Black and Latino males and according to the report “the number of stops of young Black men last year actually exceeded the total number of young Black men in the city (168,126 as compared to 158,406).” Whites, who represent 33 percent of the City’s population, accounted for only 9% of those stopped.
Bloomberg and his Police Commissioner Ray Kelly claim the purpose of these stops is to find guns – and prevent gun violence. The Mayor defended the policy, and attacked the NYCLU for drawing attention to the disparity. Yet out of 700,000 stops only 0.1% resulted in the confiscation of a gun. And less that 10% resulted in any criminal charge whatsoever – the most common one being possession of small amounts of marijuana, intended for personal use. In fact, despite the explosion in the number of stop-and-frisks – from 160,851 in 2003 to 685,724 in 2011–there was only a slight increase in gun confiscating–from 604 to 780 respectively. That minor increase can hardly justify widespread harassment of citizens, and denial of their Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted search and seizure.
What is even more compelling, and the critical point being ignored by Bloomberg’s administration, is the fact that white Americans in general – and white New York City residents in particular – are twice as likely to carry a gun than Blacks. The NYCLU reported, “a weapon was found in only 1.8 percent of Blacks and Latinos frisked, as compared to a weapon being found in 3.8 percent of Whites frisked.”
The conventional wisdom has been that police must go where the guns are. But if White Americans are far more likely to carry guns – shouldn’t they be targeted? Gallup Poll statistics from 2005 show that Whites are twice as likely to own guns, and White males are three times as likely to carry guns.
The tragic shooting that occurred outside the Empire State Building on Friday, August 24th–in which a White male was the perpetrator of senseless violence–underscores the inherent flaw in Bloomberg’s defense of a racially biased policies targeting Blacks.
Curiously, media outlets (including CNN, MSNBC and Fox News) were quick to calm viewers’ fears that the shooting was not linked to Islamic terrorism. But what the reporting also reveals is the misguided ideology about criminality and who counts as suspicious.
The perpetrator Jeffrey Johnson, a 58 year-old White male shot and killed a former co-worker, Steven Ercolino, a 41 year-old White male in what appears to have been a long-standing dispute. Johnson left the scene of the crime, dressed in a suit, carrying the murder weapon in his carry bag and police speculate that he intended to blend in with morning commuters. And herein lies the rub: Johnson was nine times less likely to have ever been stopped and frisked by police–because he didn’t fit the profile that Bloomberg and Ray Kelly deem criminal.
Likewise media reports dismiss Johnson’s behavior as an anomaly–with no characterization of “White-on-White” crime ever articulated. And this is broadly true of America’s media narratives, as crimes committed by whites are somehow seen as less egregious.
Data from the FBI and Department of Justice reveals that whites commit the vast majority of violent crime in America, yet Blacks remain disproportionately policed. From the mass movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado to the senseless murders at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, white males commit unthinkable acts of gun violence, but media generally focuses on inner-city violence – and is all too eager to racialize it with the misguided term of Black-on-Black. African-American males – even when innocent – are unrightly criminalized, while White perpetrators are dismissed as disgruntled workers or victims of mental illness.
Mayor Bloomberg became an aggressive voice on the need for stricter gun controls in the wake of the Colorado shooting, but his defense of discriminatory police practices – that statistics show have very little bearing on gun control – amounts to both professional and intellectual malfeasance.
The stop-and-frisk policy–as currently applied–reinforces a separate and unequal Jim Crow principle that African-Americans “had no rights which the White man was bound to respect.”
“The NYPD’s own data undermine many of the Bloomberg administration’s justification for the stop-and-frisk program,” said NYCLU’s Executive Director. “Contrary to the mayor and the police commissioner’s assertion, the massive spike in the number of stops has done little to remove firearms from the streets. Instead, it has violated the constitutional rights of millions of people and corroded the ability of communities of color to trust and respect police.”
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.