Poverty Creates Crime: Bloomberg Creates Bogeymen

Poverty Creates Crime: Bloomberg Creates Bogeymen

Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the North American Board Meeting for the Union for Reform Judaism on May 31, 2013, in New York City.  Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Photo source: www.slate.com
Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at the North American Board Meeting for the Union for Reform Judaism on May 31, 2013, in New York City. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images. Photo source: www.slate.com

This article originally appeared on ZNet.

Poverty does not create black people. Poverty creates crime. In order to eliminate crime, you have to eliminate poverty. But we would rather bulldoze poverty with gentrification or let poor people kill each other with no interference. If you track rates of violence in distressed communities by race, the Ohio State University Research News reports that violent crimes are 22 per thousand for blacks and 20 per thousand for whites. That suggests that although African Americans are disproportionately poor and disadvantaged, we do not disproportionately kill.

It is poverty that kills. But Mayor Bloomberg, defending his stop-and-frisk policy that was shot down by federal Judge Shira Scheindlin as racist and unconstitutional, would have us believe it is blacks and Latinos who are the murderers. While claiming to be protecting black and brown people, Bloomberg drags them out as the bogeyman in the stop-and-frisk controversy to scare whites. His words sully minorities, but the numbers don’t lie.

New York stop-and-frisk statistics show that weapons are found on whites 1.9 percent of the time; blacks 1.1, and Hispanics, 1.3. For contraband the numbers are 2.3 percent for whites, 1.8 percent for blacks, and 1.7 percent for Hispanics. Almost 90% of stops yield nothing.

Mayor Bloomberg claims to be getting the guns out of the hands of dangerous minorities but … not so much. The discriminatory stop-and-frisk tactic yielded people more likely to be carrying a bag of weed than a Smith and Wesson. Marijuana arrests as a result of this policy outnumbered all other arrests, including trespassing and weapon possession.

According to the New York Times, the NYPD spent 1 million hours arresting 440,000 people for low-level drug crimes between 2002 and 2012. Of course, 85% of arrests were blacks and Hispanics. A 2011 memo from NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly directed his police officers to stop arresting people for the happy dust, presumably because it was such a waste of resources and taxpayer’s money.

Using stop and frisk to get murderers off the streets is like pissing on the Great Chicago Fire. If Bloomberg is really looking for guns, I suggest that he check white people. Ever since a black man was elected president, whites are buying so many guns that the police are having trouble getting ammunition. In 2008, weapon sales soared, and then again in 2012.

Undaunted by prickly statistics and political leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo who is advocating for decriminalization of the few joints that police officers are confiscating using what Judge Scheindlin has deemed “racial profiling,” Bloomberg and Kelly came out with a big media splash. They announced “the largest gun bust in the city’s history” as a result of an undercover operation. Apparently, this splash is meant to douse the fires that the federal judge has lit under his policy of rousting innocent people while trampling the Fourth search-and-seizure and Fourteenth equal-protection Amendments.

Keeping New Yorkers safe from murderers is the right thing to do. Locking up marijuana “tweekers” in unlawful stops won’t do it. As a matter of fact, the trend is toward getting these nonviolent, low-level lawbreakers out of a very dysfunctional, overcrowded and costly criminal justice system. Political leaders are counting dollars and making sense in a depressed economy. This month the New York City Comptroller’s Office released a report that taxing and regulating marijuana would yield $431 million dollars in savings and revenue.

Paul Armentano of Norml, deputy director of an organization to reform marijuana laws, writes that authors of the report estimate:

… $31 million dollars would be saved annually in eliminating citywide misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests [NY State Penal Law 221.10 -- possession of any amount of cannabis in public view], which in recent years have totaled approximately 50,000 arrests per year — largely as a result of law enforcement’s aggressive use of ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics.

Further, the report states that although blacks make up 86% of the arrests, they are only 45% of marijuana users. Marijuana users and draconian drug laws are clogging up the system so much that 30 states had marijuana law reforms pending in 2012.

Inefficient use of police resources is not the only economic collateral damage from this Bloomberg boondoggle. A 2009 report from the New York City Comptroller’s Office published in the The New York Times said:

Nearly every year since Michael R. Bloomberg became mayor, more people have filed claims against the city for police actions. Deserved or not, the claims wind up costing the public a ton of money: In the last five years, the payouts have climbed to $117.6 million annually from $68.5 million. The number of claims increased to 6,616 from 5,420.

That‘s a lot of money spent to defend lawsuits. It’s created a cottage industry for lawyers like Evans Prieston, who has found a niche for himself as a New York False Arrest Attorney.

There are other unintended consequences of stop-and-frisk. Police lose whatever credibility they might have by showing up and slamming people against the wall with little pretense of probable cause. Many people just throw up their hands automatically when they see the police coming. Probable cause might as well be a new dance, as far as beleaguered and harassed minorities are concerned.

With 4 million New Yorkers stopped from 2004 to 2012, 85% of whom were African American, Latino, and mostly innocent, Deborah Grisom of the Washington Informer had this to say:

Racial profiling disproportionately targets people of color for investigation and enforcement, alienating communities from law enforcement, hindering community policing efforts, and causing law enforcement to lose credibility and trust among the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

Because billionaire Bloomberg doesn’t want to deal with poverty, or fix a criminal justice system that is broken, or answer to a federal judge who wants to monitor his racist tactics, he wants to wax John Wayne and convince New Yorkers that only stop-and-frisk can make these black and brown criminals hang up their guns.

“If this decision were to stand, it would make the city, in fact the whole country, a more dangerous place,” says Bloomberg.

Mayor, you are so ‘80s. That was the drug war, tough-on-crime, criminalization-of-the-black male era. But selling a discriminatory policy to the public using fear of “the other” is standard fare in American political drama.

Bloomberg, just say no.


Auset Marian Lewis

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"5707","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"220","style":"width: 209px; height: 220px; float: left; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"209"}}]]Auset Marian Lewis is a writer living in Baltimore.