Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it official Sunday, announcing that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. And, as would be expected, Bloomberg’s first campaign commercial – part of his $37 million ad buy – touts his record as a three-term mayor of the Big Apple. In it, he boasts that he “took charge of a city still reeling from 9/11,” adding that he “helped bring it back from the ashes.” He also brags about his record of job growth and more.
I lived in New York City during the Bloomberg administration, and I can tell you first-hand he was a great mayor for some – but not for those who were black, brown or Muslim. Bluntly, Bloomberg’s policies sent a message that blacks, Hispanics and Muslims didn’t deserve the same civil rights as other New Yorkers enjoyed.
Bloomberg was responsible for enforcing two policies that I hope will cause Democratic voters to reject his candidacy. First, there was his racist and unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy, which grew out of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s tough on crime policies. And then there was Bloomberg’s discriminatory policy of surveilling New York City’s Muslim community – simply based on our faith.
Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” policy was as racist as it gets in terms of its real-world impact. As the ACLU documented, during Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure as mayor, there were more than 5 million “stop and frisk” stops. “Though they accounted for only 4.7% of the city’s population, black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 accounted for 41% of stops between 2003 and 2013,” the ACLU wrote. The report also made it clear that the policy overwhelmingly targeted people who had done nothing wrong: “Nearly 90% of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.”
In fact, in 2013, a federal judge ruled that Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” policy was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that all Americans are to be treated equally regardless of race.
In response to this federal judge ruling, was Bloomberg apologetic, vowing to end this racist policy? No, just the opposite. He promised to appeal the decision, sounding a very Trumpian note at the time, as he “angrily accused the judge of deliberately denying the city ‘a fair trial,’” according to the New York Times.
And while Bloomberg apologized for his “stop and frisk” policy last week, as he readied a run for President, in January of this year Bloomberg was still vocally defending it. Then, in response to the question, “What would you say to those in the two communities that have been negatively affected by” this policy, Bloomberg showed little compassion for those wrongly targeted. Instead, he defended the policy, citing how the murder rate dropped while it was in use. However, as experts have noted, the murder rate in New York City continued to fall after “stop and frisk” was ended.
Bloomberg’s surveillance of the Muslim community, while receiving less media attention than his “stop and frisk” policy, was also wrong and painful. Under Bloomberg, beginning in 2003, undercover New York Police Department agents spied on Muslims where we ate, prayed, shopped and went to school. For example, the NYPD would secretly videotape worshipers attending mosques, logging where Muslims wearing Islamic clothes ate meals and recording their lunch-counter conversations.
The NYPD even infiltrated Muslim college student groups, and not just in New York City but across the Northeast, and, according to the AP, “on one occasion (it) sent an undercover officer with students from The City College of New York on a whitewater rafting trip.”
When Bloomberg was asked if police had gone too far by sending the agent on the rafting trip, he responded “no.”
So, how many leads did Bloomberg’s surveillance of the Muslim community yield? Zero, according to the NYPD. The program thankfully ended when Mayor Bill de Blasio, took office following Bloomberg in 2014.
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And while Bloomberg apologized for “stop and frisk,” he has still not apologized to the Muslim community for his surveillance program. But who needs hollow words offered years later that are simply designed to sanitize Bloomberg’s history of bigoted policies?
After living with Donald Trump as President, a man who has made many in the black, Latino and Muslim community feel that we don’t belong in his vision of America, the last thing we need is a man who created and defended policies that did the same thing in New York City.