Michael Bloomberg has apologised for his longstanding support of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” police strategy, before a potential Democratic presidential run.
When he was New York’s mayor, Mr Bloomberg embraced the practise and continued to defend it despite its disproportionate impact on people of colour.
Addressing a black church in Brooklyn, Mr Bloomberg said he was “sorry” and acknowledged it often led to the detention of blacks and Latinos.
“I can’t change history,” he told the congregation. “However today, I want you to know that I realise back then I was wrong.”
Mr Bloomberg’s reversal is notable for someone who is often reluctant to admit wrongdoing. It’s also a recognition that if he’s to compete for the Democratic presidential nomination, he’ll have to win support from black voters.
The apology, however, was received sceptically by many prominent activists who noted that it was made as he is taking steps to enter the race.
“It is convenient that Bloomberg suddenly apologises but has done nothing to undo the immense damage he has caused on countless lives,” said activist DeRay Mckesson. “His apology is not accepted.”
Stop-and-frisk gave police wide authority to detain people they suspected of committing a crime, and Mr Bloomberg aggressively pursued the tactic when he first took over as mayor in 2002.
Under the programme, New York City police officers made it a routine practice to stop and search multitudes of mostly black and Hispanic men to see if they were carrying weapons.
Police claimed that people were only targeted if officers had a reasonable suspicion that they were breaking the law. But while the searches did lead to weapons being confiscated, the overwhelming majority of people who were detained and frisked were let go because they hadn’t done anything wrong.
Many men found the encounters humiliating and degrading, and statistics showed that minorities were far more likely to be subjected to such a search.
Rev Al Sharpton applauded Mr Bloomberg for reversing his stance, though he added that he would have to “wait and see whether it was politically motivated”.
“As one who helped lead countless demonstrations, marches and rallies to amplify the racial impact that was had on the black and brown community from stop-and-frisk policing, I am glad to see Mr Bloomberg now admit that the policy was wrong,” Mr Sharpton said.