By Chris Hoenig
Bill Thompson is known as a relaxed politician, more of a tamer than a tiger in the three-ring circus that is modern politics. But comments he made over the weekend are drawing national attention to the race to become the next Mayor of America's largest city.
The former New York City Comptroller—the only Black candidate in the mayoral race—slammed the NYPD's controversial "Stop and Frisk" policy, comparing it to the events that led to George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin. "Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young Black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and to frisk them because of the color of their skin," he told supporters. "Trayvon Martin did die because he was Black. Of that there is no doubt."
The remarks are increasing the interest in Thompson, who is looking to gain ground in a race blown open by another headline-grabbing candidate (see: Weiner, Anthony). Throughout his career, Thompson has avoided the subject of race, admitting that discussing it was "not my first or natural instinct." But delve into race he has, assailing the NYPD for profiling "as Trayvon was profiled."
"If our government profiles people because of skin color and treats them as potential criminals," Thompson said, "how can we expect citizens to do any less?"
Racial Profiling by the NYPD
The police department's "Stop and Frisk" program is a key campaign issue in the mayoral race. It has been a point of contention for years, the subject of public criticism and multiple lawsuits.
Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed two bills that would have reined in the tactics—one that would have created an inspector general to hold officers accountable; another that would have opened the door for additional lawsuits against the city. Most of the candidates running for Bloomberg's seat support the installation of an inspector general or the abolishment of the practice altogether.
In 2012, more than a half million people were stopped as part of the program—and nearly 90 percent of them were Black or Latino, even though those groups combine to make up barely half of the city's population. Reasons for a stop can range from "wearing clothes commonly used in a crime" to "furtive movements," and from having a "suspicious bulge" to "suspect acting as a lookout." Most were innocent—only 6 percent of those stopped last year were arrested, while another 5 percent were given summonses for minor violations.
Firestorm at FDNY
Lawsuits claiming racial discrimination aren't left just to New York's Finest, but also to New York's Bravest. The FDNY graduated its most diverse class ever this week—but only because of a court settlement.
A 2007 lawsuit alleged the FDNY, which was 83 percent white at the time, illegally discriminated against applicants based on race. The city lost the lawsuit and a subsequent appeal, and as a result of a settlement, it allowed applicants from underrepresented groups who took the firefighting exam in 1999 and 2000 to retake the written and physical tests.
The 2013 class is 27 percent Black, 37 percent Hispanic and includes the most female recruits in more than 30 years.