At a black church in Brownsville, the mayor talks about murder and stop-and-frisk

Bloomberg in Brownsville. (Dana Rubinstein)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Mayor Michael Bloomberg traveled to the heart of stop-and-frisk country on Sunday morning to talk about murder, and how the controversial police tactic reduces its incidence.

With the words "Repent ye and be baptized" at his back and a mostly female congregation before him, the mayor stood at the First Baptist Church of Brownsville's wooden lectern and said there had been ten murders during the first week of June, "a fairly typical week in New York City."

“To their families and loved ones—their mothers and fathers, their friends and neighbors—those ten people were not a statistic," said Bloomberg. "They were human beings. Just listen."

Then he recited their names: "Jimmy Albright, age 32, Sheepshead Bay; Kelvis Cueto, age 17, East New York; Ackeem Green, age 25, Harlem…"

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Education Commissioner Dennis Walcott, his highest ranking black appointee, sat in the front pew.

“And in all likelihood, sadly, there will be more murders this coming week and most of them will again be black and Hispanic," said the mayor.

The NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk has skyrocketed during Bloomberg's decade in office, without bringing about a commensurate decrease in shootings. Even so, the mayor argues that stop-and-frisk has saved some 5,600 lives.

As the election to succeed Bloomberg has gotten underway, the practice has come under increasing criticism.

In May, a judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit challenging the practice, and last week, the Justice Department said it was reviewing the policy.

On Father's Day, a powerful local union will participate in a silent march protesting the use of stop-and-frisk.

In the meantime, the mayor has made some incremental concessions to his critics.

The day after the judge granted class-action status, police commissioner Ray Kelly said he would underscore the illegality of racial profiling during police training and instruct departmental supervisors to more carefully review stop-and-frisk incidents to ensure that they are merited.

Further, the mayor has supported a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to reduce penalties for public possession of small amounts of marijuana, something the mayor says is merely a codification of an existing NYPD policy.

On Sunday, the mayor touted those reforms, even as he continued to defend stop-and-frisk.

He said thanks to the tactic, police last year took 780 guns, 5,872 knives and 1,572 other weapons off the streets, prompting a "wow" from a parishioner in a long, flowery dress.

"Now there are some who would say we are stopping too many black and Hispanic young men," said the mayor.

Some in the congregation, seeming to concur, applauded.

"I don't think either Ray Kelly or I need to have our credentials at trying to stop racial disparity and discrimination questioned," said Bloomberg, who worked in finance and founded a media company before becoming mayor. "We both have spent our lives working on it."

He said, "We owe it to New Yorkers to ensure that stops are properly conducted and carried out in a respectful way. Commissioner Kelly and I believe that we can do a better job in both areas."

The applause that greeted the mayor at the end of his speech was warm, if not wildly enthusiastic.

Upon his departure for the Puerto Rican Day Parade, church bishop A. D. Lyon criticized the administration's use of stop-and-frisk.

"You can't just slam somebody against a wall and throw them down and put your knee on them," Lyon said. "You've got to treat them--they're human."

Asked if he believed the police were racially profiling in his community, Lyon said, "Yes."

Melvin Faulkner, a 77-year-old deacon at Bedford-Stuyvesant's Rehoboth Cathedral wasn't all that complimentary either.

Clutching a well-worn bible, the deacon, who has himself been stopped and frisked, said the practice had been "over-extended."

Though he called Kelly a "wonderful person" and said "he's been working with us," he said, "If you come up to me and throw me against a wall, you're gonna get hatred in return. Let's face it."

Sylvester Robinson, a besuited Brownsville 11th-grader, said he'd been stopped "a lot of times," and said he takes pains to empty out his pockets before the police can touch him.

Asked if the police were generally courteous to him, Robinson said, "Not really."

Johnathon Wilson, a 25-year-old Sheepshead Bay landscaper and Brownsville church regular, said he gets frisked once or twice a week, or, as he put it, "here and there."

"It feels like, you ain't got no say-so in nothing," he said.

But, Wilson has seen some improvement in the situation: He said he hasn't been stopped in the past month.

"They working on it," he said. "It's a work in progress."