AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Michael Bloomberg has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in his bid to become president, swamping television sets and smartphone screens with carefully compiled ads that present the anti-gun billionaire as a pragmatic technocrat who can solve problems without needless partisanship. That narrative was challenged Monday evening as Twitter users shared audio from a 2015 speech to the Aspen Institute where Bloomberg talked about fighting crime by disarming young black men.
Bloomberg had video of speech blocked.
— Benjamin Dixon (@BenjaminPDixon) February 10, 2020
Audio and transcripts of the speech have been floating around since shortly after Bloomberg’s remarks were prevented from being officially released by the Aspen Institute, and have been covered in the pro-Second Amendment community for years. I actually wrote about this speech by Bloomberg back in December, noting that the speech was going to be problematic for the candidate. The 2015 Mike Bloomberg sounds a lot different than the 2020 Bloomberg running for president.
That was 2015 Mike Bloomberg. 2020’s Mike Bloomberg is an opponent of “stop and frisk” who bizarrely claims that no one ever asked him about the policy and whether or not he supported it until he ran for president.
2015 Mike Bloomberg was all about busting young black and brown guys for a little bit of weed if you couldn’t find a gun on them, but 2020’s Mike Bloomberg is all about criminal justice reform and making sure young minority men don’t go to prison for minor drug offenses.
While gun owners and Second Amendment supporters may have been aware of Bloomberg’s comments in Aspen, many reporters and other Democratic candidates are discovering his remarks for the first time, including Bernie Sanders’ national press secretary.
— Briahna Solidarity Gray (@briebriejoy) February 10, 2020
The discovery of Bloomberg’s comments by the non-2A press comes as a new national poll shows Bloomberg vaulting into third place behind Bernie Sanders and just a couple of points behind Joe Biden. The Quinnipiac poll has Bloomberg at 15%, with Sanders polling at 25% and Biden dropping from 26% to 17% in the groups polling. Much of Bloomberg’s surge in the Q poll comes from growing support among black Americans, with Bloomberg garnering 22% of the support of black respondents to the poll.
Odds are good that most voters haven’t ever heard Bloomberg discuss reducing crime by locking up young black guys for non-violent offenses like pot possession, but I’m guessing they’ll be hearing the audio soon enough. It’s important to note, however, that while Bloomberg’s comments are bad, his actual policies are even worse.
One of the biggest changes that Bloomberg made to New York City gun laws as mayor was to treat unlicensed possession of a handgun as a felony offense. That change was ultimately applied statewide as part of the SAFE Act package of gun control laws approved by New York lawmakers in 2013, and since then, the vast majority of SAFE Act charges have come from just two boroughs of New York City; The Bronx and Brooklyn. As Slate‘s Emily Bazelon reported last year, the vast majority of those cases are possessory charges being brought against young black men with no serious criminal history.
over many months of my reporting, I found hundreds of teenagers and young people, almost all of them black, being marched to prison not for firing a gun, or even pointing one, but for having one. Many of them had minimal criminal records. To be precise, when I went through 200 case files, I found that 70 percent of the defendants in gun court had no previous felony convictions.
Here’s what predicted who ended up on the benches in gun court: race and age. Black people are less likely to own guns than white people, but the defendants in gun court were almost all black teenagers and young men. An initiative that sounded like a targeted attack on America’s gun problem looked up close more like stop-and-frisk or the war on drugs—one more way to round up young black men. Reviewing my book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik suggested that a kid locked up for a drug offense would have made a more representative subject. But drug charges are the old way of shunting people to prison. Gun possession, and similar offenses that states treat as violent, is the new way. And the 20-year-old whose case I followed wasn’t “the wrong kid” from the point of view of the system or the politicians that built it. His case was typical in gun court, because he was exactly the kind of person the mayor’s plan was designed to ensnare.
Bill de Blasio may have established the Brooklyn gun court, but the court is enforcing Bloomberg’s law, and it’s primarily young black men who are paying the price; sent off to prison for years for simply possessing a firearm without a license. That isn’t even a crime in many states across the country, but in Bloomberg’s world it’s enough to lock you up for more than three years.
I’m glad that folks are now starting to pay more attention to what Bloomberg has said and done over the years, and not just mindlessly nod in agreement when they’re subjected to one of his ubiquitous campaign ads. What Bloomberg doesn’t want you to know says far more about him than the narrative he’s spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote.