Let’s be very clear about one thing: Michael Bloomberg’s half-hearted apologies about stop-and-frisk are a bunch of bullshit.
In Wednesday’s Democratic primary debate in Las Vegas, for example, the former New York City mayor attempted once again to appear contrite about the consequences of one of his signature policies, one that disproportionately (and purposefully, per Bloomberg’s own comments) targeted minority communities. “If I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing I’m really worried about, embarrassed about is how it turned out with stop-and-frisk,” Bloomberg said onstage before pivoting to talk about how crime rates fell in New York while he was mayor.
Bloomberg had to expect to be attacked over stop-and-frisk, so it’s pretty sad that he couldn’t come up with a more sincere-sounding answer. It’s also telling that he phrased his response that way: “worried,” then “embarrassed.”
“It’s not whether he apologies or not, it’s the policy,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, summing up the common-sense opinion of stop-and-frisk. “The policy was abhorrent.”
But let’s be clear about something else, too. One of the biggest beneficiaries of Wednesday night’s dogpile on Bloomberg is Biden, whose own terrible record on criminal justice issues has suddenly fallen out of the spotlight. Unburdened from the role of apparent front-runner, Biden seems more comfortable on the attack—but his accurate criticism of Bloomberg’s awfulness should not be allowed to obscure his own.
Need I remind you? Biden was instrumental in passing a 1984 anti-drug law that effectively created the modern civil asset forfeiture system, which law enforcement has regularly abused to seize cash, cars, homes, and other valuables from individuals who are often never charged with a crime.
In 1986, Biden co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act—spurred by a moral panic over several high-profile deaths linked to cocaine—that added more mandatory minimum sentences for federal drug crimes, including the provision requiring a five-year prison term for anyone convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine or 500 grams of powdered cocaine. That massive discrepancy “unjustly and disproportionately” penalized African Americans and poor communities, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a 2006 report on the law.
Most famously, Biden championed the 1994 crime bill and its harsh “three-strikes” rule, which imposed life sentences for anyone convicted of a violent felony if they had two prior offenses on their record—including drug crimes.
If Bloomberg is guilty of empowering police officers to disregard individuals’ rights in pursuit of elusive criminals, then Biden is equally guilty of empowering prosecutors to lock up those alleged “predators” and throw away the key.
In short, they represent two separate but equally important groups within the criminal justice system—and when it comes to empowering police and prosecutors to violate your rights, neither Bloomberg nor Biden have a record worth bragging about.
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