Weiner on stop-and-frisk and the Trayvon trial as ‘sporting event’ for white people

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Weiner at a roundtable discussion. (Reid Pillifant)
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At a roundtable discussion with black business owners on Sunday afternoon, Anthony Weiner said the trial of Trayvon Martin's shooter had been treated too much like a "sporting event" by people who aren't affected by racial profiling.

"The Martin trial showed us kind of the worst of how we deal with these challenges, right?" Weiner said at the hour-long event in Prospect Heights. "We treat it almost like a sporting event in some respects. You know, the split-screen TVs, people arguing about the trial, arguing about the testimony: 'The judge should have done this, the attorneys should have done that.'

"The verdict comes and a large portion of the country—white people, frankly—go on their merry way," he continued. "'OK, that sporting event is over. The Rodney King trial is over, Amadou Diallo, now this one.' But for large numbers of Americans, and large numbers of New Yorkers, it's not as if a sporting event ended. It's just that nothing changed. We're kind of going from one thing to another, 'Wow, OK, nothing has changed.'"

Martin's death has been invoked during the mayoral campaign in recent weeks, most notably by Bill Thompson, the lone black candidate in the race, who said the "suspicion" that led to Martin's death had been institutionalized by New York's police department in its execution of stop-and-frisk.

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"I don't know if I would have drawn the same conclusion from the Martin case," Weiner told me after the roundtable. "I think that the decision being made here is a policing decision, that you want to use stops of citizens who are innocent as a deterrent against those who are guilty of doing things. That's the policy that they've instituted in the city of New York that is fundamentally contrary to what a lot of us believe about what people's civil rights are."

Weiner told the group, which consisted of 25 local business owners seated around him in a large rectangle, that stop-and-frisk could not be eliminated as a tactic for police, using the example of officers who witness a drug deal.

"We cannot eliminate that tool for police officers, otherwise there would be no policing," he said.

"The problem is the policy of taking that tack and expanding it to hundreds of thousands of people that did nothing wrong," he added.

Weiner, who has criticized the department during this campaign without proposing much in the way of alternatives, cited the high number of stops under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and told the group he, as mayor, would be more transparent with statistics about the policy, saying, "The only reason we know these numbers is because the [federal stop-and-frisk] trial is going on right now."

Weiner also said he would judge his police commissioner, not only by how much crime decreases, but also "the percentage of stops that you're getting that actually results in something, and that's a perfectly reasonable thing to judge somebody on."

"But I don't think you can at the same time argue you're going to change the policy and keep the guy who's the primary architect of it, which one of my opponents is doing," he added, in a reference to Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has said she'd like to retain Kelly as police commissioner. "To me that's too much dissonance to really make sense."

After the event, I asked Weiner if he would consider it "dissonance" to replace Ray Kelly with someone like police captain Philip Banks, one of Kelly's top deputies, who was recently mentioned as a possible successor by public advocate Bill de Blasio, who has said he'd dismiss Kelly if he were elected mayor.

"Look I have some biases for police commissioner," Weiner told me. "One would be someone from New York City, someone who understands the department. I would have a bias toward someone who grew up here, someone who knew the public school system. None of these things would necessarily—not having these things wouldn't disqualify you, but it's a bias. And someone who was prepared to bring some new approaches. Because I think to some degree, you do need some new approaches. But I don't think anyone would be disqualified beyond Commissioner Kelly."

Asked if it was important to appoint a person of color as commissioner, Weiner said, "We have to do everything we can to send the message that we understand that the policies—the stop and frisk policies—have undermined the confidence of large numbers of New Yorkers in the police department, and we have to restore that trust."

Weiner recently compared stop-and-frisk to "1938 Germany" during a campaign stop on Staten Island, sparking a minor controversy that was quickly overshadowed by revelations that he had continued engaging in sexual conversations with young women even after his resignation from Congress, long after he'd publicly said that he'd changed his ways. (No one asked about the scandal during the roundtable discussion.)

But Weiner has avoided getting into specifics about how he'd actually change the police department policies he criticized. Unlike some of his rivals, including Quinn and de Blasio, Weiner does not support legislation that would create and inspector general for the department.

"We've got to keep the pressure on talking about these things," Weiner said at the event on Sunday. "And I've talked about it in every room I go to, because I believe it's important that white people stand up and talk about this, not just people who are a victim of these stops."

After he had concluded his lengthy answer on stop-and-frisk, a moderator asked that future questions adhere more closely to the theme of the roundtable, which mostly focused on business issues like how to promote financing and grants.

"Hold on, one second, one second," said an attendee named Major Harris. "I think that's kind of difficult, because the business community exists within the greater community. If there's a crime happening outside of this business, this business suffers, so we can't just be isolated in saying we're going to be pragmatic and only deal with business issues."

"We live here, it's our life," said another woman.

"Fair enough," said the moderator, though no one else asked about policing.