Andrew J. Padilla, a New York City writer and filmmaker, was walking into Manhattan’s Riverside Park with two of his friends one night to hang out, when a police officer pointed a gun at them.
Padilla put his hands up, knowing things could escalate, and that they had done nothing wrong. It was 2007, or maybe 2008. Padilla doesn’t quite remember the date — only that he must have been 17 or 18 years old.
“It was a feeling of impotence,” Padilla told HuffPost in a phone interview. “That we could die.”
Padilla said the police officer emptied their pockets, threatened them with the possibility of arrest and the use of force. Then, he let them go. When they asked him why they were stopped, the police officer told them that they fit a “description,” Padilla said.
Padilla recounted his story on Twitter this week with the hashtag #MyBloombergStory, an online campaign aiming to shed light on the experiences of brown and Black New Yorkers under the leadership of former Republican mayor Michael Bloomberg — now the billionaire presidential candidate rising in the Democratic primary polling.
This was Padilla’s personal encounter with the city’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, a directive to police to stop, question and search suspicious people. It disproportionately targeted Black and brown teenagers and sowed major distrust between communities of color and law enforcement. It was also a major part of Bloomberg’s legacy in the city; stop and frisk increased sevenfold under his tenure between 2002 and 2013. Under Bloomberg, stop and frisk reached its peak in 2011, when more than 685,000 people were stopped. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, about 90% of stopped and frisked New Yorkers were found innocent.
Bloomberg has been making explicit overtures to Black voters on the campaign trail; in Houston, Texas, he held a “Mike for Black America” rally, where he apologized for defending the stop-and-frisk policy in the past, and recognized structural racism. A Quinnipiac poll of Democratic voters Monday showed Bloomberg with 22% support among Black Americans, second only to former Vice President Joe Biden, who had 27% support.
In recent days, audio of Bloomberg defending the stop-and-frisk policy during a 2015 speech at the Aspen Institute prompted Benjamin Dixon, a progressive activist and podcast host, to call on New Yorkers to share their experiences in the city under Bloomberg. Since then, thousands have used the #MyBloombergStory hashtag on social media.
Moumita Ahmed, who founded Millennials for Bernie, recounted her father getting stopped, detained and held for hours in 2002 when she was 12 years old. At the time, she didn’t know what happened to him.
“That night I went from hospital to hospital to see if unidentified bodies were admitted,” Ahmed wrote.
Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal who is now running for New York’s 16th congressional district — sitting Democrat Rep. Eliot Engel’s seat — said he was pulled over in the Bronx for allegedly forgetting to put on his turn signal. He was taken out of his car, handcuffed and put in a holding cell. As a teacher, he had to report the arrest to the Department of Education, which he said held back his overtime pay.
In an interview with HuffPost, Bowman added that it wasn’t just stop and frisk. Students were subjected to heightened policing in schools.
“They put metal detectors in my school,” Bowman said. “There weren’t metal detectors put in white schools. Part of my job as a dean of students was to moderate metal detectors. So I was part of the criminalization of Black and brown kids. That’s not why I got my master’s ... to play corrections officer at my school.”
“Now his record is coming out because people who experienced his tenure in New York are speaking up,” Bowman added.
Bloomberg has not participated in any Democratic primary debates because he’s self-funding his campaign and therefore ineligible because of a DNC donor requirement ― but that’s been eliminated, and he’s likely to be onstage in Nevada next week. He has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a presidential bid, far more than any other candidate in the field, and is forgoing the first four contests of the primary, instead focused on the Super Tuesday states. His stock has been rising in the polls, particularly in diverse Southern states, where he has been gaining support from Black voters.
“His money is saturating an image of him that doesn’t match up with the experience people of New York have had with him,” Dixon, who himself is from Atlanta, Georgia, said. “He has bought himself out of his true record.”
Bloomberg apologized for his administration’s use of stop and frisk before entering the presidential race and again after 2015 audio leaked of him defending the policy.
“Ninety-five percent of your murders — murderers and murder victims — fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops,” Bloomberg is heard saying on the audio recording. “They are male minorities, 16 to 25. That’s true in New York. That’s true in virtually every city,”
“And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them,” the clip continues.
Bloomberg’s statement about the recording was a little misleading, saying he “inherited” the policy, and cut it back by the end of his tenure in office.
“By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95%, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologized — and I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on Black and Latino communities,” Bloomberg said.
Cases of stop and frisk in New York City expanded dramatically under Bloomberg’s leadership. In 2013, a federal judge ruled the implementation of the policy unconstitutional, saying that it amounted to racial discrimination. Between January 2004 and June 2012, the NYPD conducted more than 4.4 million stop-and-frisk checks, 52% of which were of Black residents, according to court ruling. The policy has since been widely deemed ineffective, and there has not been an increase in violent crime since the ruling.
“It’s supremely offensive to people of color, to make them choose between two white supremacists,” Padilla said of Bloomberg’s candidacy. “It’s really offensive to working-class people to choose between two billionaires. That’s what a lot of the stories are highlighting. It is offensive to even suggest that Bloomberg should be the Democratic nominee. Do I really have to choose between two racist oligarchs? That’s a nightmare scenario.”
Dixon, and others participating in the social media campaign, are hoping their voices can compete with Bloomberg’s massive advertising presence.
But they recognize the challenge they face. It’s a “David and Goliath” situation, Dixon said.