Vote blue, no matter who.
That’s the fall election mantra of Democrats desperate to cleanse the White House of its current occupant. But here’s the question some African Americans are now asking: What if the “who” is Michael Bloomberg? What if the former New York City mayor is the man chosen to contend against President Donald Trump? Shall we vote blue if all it offers is the chance to replace a stupid racist with a smarter one?
Some will reject that characterization. They will point to Mr. Bloomberg’s pledges to increase black home ownership, his support by such black luminaries as Georgia Rep. Lucy McBath and educator Geoffrey Canada.
That's persuasive. But the audio that was leaked last week is conclusive.
In the clip, made in 2015 at the Aspen Institute, Mr. Bloomberg defends stop-and-frisk, the policy, initiated under his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, of allowing police to detain and search anyone they found suspicious, regardless of probable cause.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O.,” said Mr. Bloomberg, who vastly expanded the policy. “You can just take the description, Xerox it, pass it out to all the cops. They are male minorities, 15 to 25. That’s true in New York, it’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is.” So it was necessary, he said, to take black and brown men and boys, “throw them against the walls and frisk them.”
They did this millions of times to millions of people. Nearly all were guilty of no crime. Guns were discovered 0.1 percent of the time. Black and brown men were disproportionately likely to be stopped, though white men were more likely to be carrying contraband.
Tony Lee, a black preacher, recalls a cold day in the '90s when he was in seminary and it happened to him. He had just walked out of a restaurant with a takeout bag stuffed deep in the pockets of a winter coat when three white men jumped out of a car and rushed him. He wasn't even sure they were actually police as they threw him against a railing and began frisking him. "Then they feel the food and they scream, 'Gun!' and really snatch me up. I scream, 'No! It's chicken! It's chicken!'"
He said they told him later that they stopped him because they’d had reports of “a black man in a black coat” committing crime. Said Mr. Lee: “It’s the middle of Harlem in the wintertime. ‘A black man in a black coat.’ Then they said, ‘Next time, don’t be so nervous.’ One, as if to have the police jump out and snatch you up is not supposed to be an anxiety moment. Two, it was a presupposition of next time.”
Some progressives are impatient with all this. They note that Mr. Bloomberg has already apologized — a whole week before announcing his candidacy. He did so again last week. For them, this is all a distraction from a clear and present danger. As journalist Aaron Rupar put it on Twitter, “Trump is consolidating power in an authoritarian manner while Democrats attack each other and argue over years-old video clips.”
Maybe. Still, one can't help noting the way many white voters seem to regard racism as something that, while a character flaw, is not a deal breaker. This was true on the right. Apparently, it is also true on the left.
Vote blue, no matter who? Even if the "who" sees your boys and men as Xeroxes, to be interchangeably thrown against walls? How will black people, the most loyal of Democratic constituencies, respond, if this is what they are asked to do?
If Democrats are smart, we’ll never find out.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.