'Sorry' doesn't always make it right by Julianne Malveaux


12/6/2019, 6 a.m. | Updated on 12/6/2019, 5:07 p.m.
Billionaire Mike Bloomberg entered the already-crowded Democratic presidential primary with a splash.
Julianne Malveaux

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg entered the already-crowded Democratic presidential primary with a splash.

His ad buy of about $35 mil- lion represents more than half of what the other dozen or so candidates have spent on the campaign so far. His net worth, estimated by Forbes at $54.6 billion, means he has deep pockets and virtually unlimited funds to spend on a campaign.

Some think that he can beat President Trump in an election since Mr. Bloomberg is far wealthier than him. In addition to his wealth, he’s white and male. Facetiously speaking, what’s not to like?

Except during his 12-year tenure as mayor of New York City, Mr. Bloomberg was an ardent proponent of “stop and frisk,” the policing policy that allows officers to stop virtually anyone without a warrant if they seem “suspicious.”

At its peak, more than 650,000 people were detained in a single year under the stop and frisk policy. Nearly 6 million New York- ers were “stopped and frisked” between 2003 and 2015. The overwhelming majority of those who were stopped — 90 percent — were African-American or Latino. In about 85 percent of the cases, there were no fines or convictions.

Civil rights organizations and many others vehemently opposed “stop and frisk.” Hundreds thronged to Mr. Bloomberg’s Upper East Side home to protest the policy. But the then-mayor was adamant that “stop and frisk” was justified and explained that more black and brown people were being stopped because more of them were committing crimes.

But the era of “stop and frisk” was an era where any black or brown person, regardless of their appearance or status, could be stopped. A few of those who should not have been stopped sued. Many protested. Some considered “stop and frisk” the byproduct of racism and racial profiling and chose not to take the legal route.

The era of “stop and frisk” exacerbated tensions between law enforcement officers and the black community. And until recently, Mr. Bloomberg stood by his policy.

Then a week before his entry into the presidential contest, Mr. Bloomberg “apologized” for the “stop and frisk” policy while speaking at an African-American megachurch in Brooklyn, N.Y. His very cynical use of the black church, along with the timing of the so-called apology, is highly suspect. And the decade-too-late apology, offered with no remedy, is meaningless.

The very wealthy Mr. Bloomberg could accompany his apology with a sizeable donation to criminal justice reform. He could break off a few million and donate it to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the American Civil Liberties Union or any of the other organizations fighting for criminal justice reform. An apology, without an offer to redress the wrong, is meaningless. A simple apology, especially after all the harm that was done, is as sorry as the words “I’m sorry.” Sorry doesn’t always make it right.

The apology seems to have been made to aid the Bloomberg presidential campaign, but most people won’t be fooled. Despite his money, Mr. Bloomberg is a late entry into the race. His wealth is the only thing that makes him stand out, but not by much because there is another wealthy white man, Tom Steyer, in the race.

Some say it takes a big person to acknowledge their wrong. But Mr. Bloomberg left office in 2013. He has had at least six years to apologize.

Since his departure as mayor, tensions between black and brown residents and police officers have risen. Trigger-happy cops have killed too many black and brown folks. Do the names Tamir Rice, Philando Castille or Michael Brown mean anything? If Mr. Bloomberg were sorry, he could talk about the flaws in our criminal justice system. Instead, he has offered a half-baked apology without acknowledging or attempting to remedy the impact his unjust policies had on black and brown lives.

The current president is proof positive that money, integrity and sagacity are not positively correlated. Mr. Bloomberg’s tepid apology may be further evidence that the wealthy don’t think the rules apply to them.

Mike Bloomberg clearly has money to burn. But it would be great if he burned it for criminal justice reform rather than for an ill-fated, vain presidential campaign.

The writer is an economist, author, media contributor and educator.