New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson spoke out against the city’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” practice in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict in Florida, saying the program has “institutionalized” suspicion against black and Hispanic men.
Thompson, the city’s former comptroller and the only African-American candidate in the crowded and contested race, hasn't made his race an overt issue in the campaign. But at a speech over the weekend at Abundant Life Church, he said the renewed focus on race relations in the wake of the not guilty verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin should also cause the city to re-examine its practices.
“Trayvon Martin did die because he was black. Of that, there is no doubt. I did not serve on that jury, and I am not here to discuss whether, under the law, they came to a reasonable conclusion about reasonable doubt,” he said. “But I do know that George Zimmerman was suspicious of Trayvon because he was young and he was black.”
Zimmerman, who is of white and Hispanic descent, pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin, an unarmed black teen. He said he acted in self-defense and was acquitted earlier this month of second-degree murder and manslaughter. Defense lawyer Mark O’Mara said after the verdict that race had not played any role in Zimmerman’s actions that night and that his client had been made a “scapegoat” by civil rights advocates.
“If our government profiles people because of skin color and treats them as potential criminals, how can we expect citizens to do any less?,” Thompson asked during Sunday’s remarks.
Thompson reiterated on Monday’s The Daily Rundown that he believed New York’s program bypasses protections intended to protect against profiling.
“There are certain constitutional safeguards that have been attached to stop-and-frisk, and in New York they’ve been ignored in so many different ways,” said Thompson.
“So what it has done is to be--almost institutionalized the focus on just stopping black and Latino men in the city of New York. That’s how you start to institutionalize bad policy,” the Democratic candidate continued.
Thompson said these were made worse by quotas he says police officers have, but it could be remedied, in part, by adding more officers to patrol high-crime areas.
“The first thing I think is getting rid of these quotas,” said Thompson. “Performance goals that have been set -- that have been attached to this. That's the first big step. Second, in training with our police officers. when they make a stop, it is what are they looking for. It’s not just stopping someone because they're black or because they're Latino.”
Thompson also said that if the city’s police commissioner, Ray Kelly, is nominated by President Obama as the next Homeland Security secretary, how he has “misused stop-and-frisk” and “targeted individuals” should be a consideration.
“It is cause for concern in any confirmation,” said Thompson.
Kelly recently appeared on Morning Joe and defended the program that allows police to stop suspected wrongdoers, saying "you can't police without it," and arguing there are no quotas only "productivity goals."
“The notion that anyone stopped has done absolutely nothing wrong is not really the case,” he said at the time.
A request for comment from Kelly’s office was not immediately returned.
Mayor Bloomberg has also repeatedly defended the practice. He recently vetoed two bills intended to curb stop and frisk, calling the bills “a dangerous and irresponsible bill that would make New Yorkers less safe.”
Thompson lost the 2009 mayoral election to Michael Bloomberg by five points, and he’s been overshadowed in the 2013 race With former Rep. Anthony Weiner still trying to salvage his candidacy after evidence of new online relationships with women even after he resigned from Congress over his sexting scandal, Thompson echoed other candidates and politicians in calling for a defiant Weiner to step aside.
“I think that Anthony has become a distraction and he needs to drop out of this race,” said Thompson. “It’s way past time that he get out of the race.”
In a new Quinnipiac University poll out Monday, Thompson had gained traction, now in a close third place, taking 20% to Council Speaker Christine Quinn's 27%, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio's 21% and Weiner dropping to 16%.
If Thompson is trying to gain among African American voters, Weiner still leads among all likely black voters with 24%, compared to 22% for Thompson, 21% for Quinn & 16%for de Blasio. Without Weiner, voters are split between Thompson at 31% and Quinn at 30%.