Bozelko column: Bloomberg’s blueprint for criminal justice was revolutionary
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
On Feb. 24, a collection of 90 New Yorkers of color who lived in the Big Apple while Michael Bloomberg served as mayor penned an open letter asking others voting on Super Tuesday to “stay away” from Bloomberg because of his responsibility for the stop-and-frisk program that operated in the city. The signatories on the letter joined a chorus of influencers who had vowed never to vote for the former mayor because of his use of the unconstitutional practice.
Bloomberg suspended his campaign March 4 after a primary poop out. He didn’t win any of the 14 states that held their elections on Super Tuesday, but got delegates in the territory of American Samoa.
While I’m sure they’re pleased, Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk critics fail to see that his exit isn’t a win for them. They let victimhood turn their gaze away from a path to power.
Bloomberg’s criminal justice plan is rather progressive. As president, he would have created a presidential council of stakeholders to advise him on criminal justice, the majority of whom would have been formerly incarcerated themselves.
At the presidential level, the plank is revolutionary, unprecedented. Neither of the Democratic frontrunners, Sen. Bernie Sanders or former Vice President Joe Biden, include anything close to this idea in their platforms. To do what Bloomberg planned - to formalize the relationship between people like the writers of the letter and give them more direct influence over policy - offered more power than they’d ever have with any other candidate in the White House.
It’s common knowledge that if you’re not in the blueprint, you won’t be in the building. People who’ve tangled with the justice system were in Bloomberg’s blueprint - as leaders, not targets. We would have been in the building when he made decisions - literally.
The war cry “Nothing about us without us” started with the disability rights movement in the 1990s but it’s migrated to other political groups. It’s what we strive for: policies that take into account the opinions of the people who are most likely to be affected by them. If the Bloomberg mayoralty had embraced this concept, “stop-and-frisk” would have been stopped and tsk-tsked. Rather, it might not have ever started.
But Bloomberg’s opponents were so dedicated to making him toxic that they didn’t even notice that their views - whatever they happen to be - would have been explicitly incorporated into his future decision-making and helped prevent oppressive tactics from being used again. It’s almost as if they’d rather be victims than insert their voices and experiences into federal policymaking to protect others.
I was stopped, frisked and strip-searched over 200 times while I was in prison. I won’t tell anyone to get over it. I know its harm - perhaps more than anyone patted down by the NYPD in the early part of this century.
To me, the story of the “stay away” letter shows the difference between being right and being effective. Bloomberg’s opponents were absolutely right that stop-and-frisk damaged people, mostly minorities, and that it’s inexcusable. But in insisting on how right they were, they rendered themselves ineffective.
Sure, they were part of a successful push against Bloomberg’s candidacy, but they’re no closer to power than they were before they set pen to paper. Bloomberg’s leaving the race advanced none of them, but his presence held some promise for them. I’m left to conclude that they didn’t want that power, which is puzzling.
Staying away from Mike Bloomberg - as so many voters obviously did - actually kept a marginalized person further from power in the long run.
Chandra Bozelko writes the award-winning blog Prison Diaries. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChandraBozelko and email her at email@example.com.