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Bloomberg Under Fire For Defending Racial Disparities In Marijuana Arrests In Newly Resurfaced Recording

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In a newly released recording, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg can be heard defending racial disparities in marijuana arrest rates by arguing that minority neighborhoods are “where all the crime is.”

The remarks, which Bloomberg made during an Aspen Institute speech in 2015, were shared on Twitter on Monday. The revelation has galvanized voters who argue that it reflects a racist mentality underlying controversial stop-and-frisk police tactics and mass incarceration.

After asserting that “95 percent” of murderers and murder victims are “are male minorities, 16 to 25,” Bloomberg said the response should be to “spend the money on a lot of cops in the streets, put those cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

There is an “unintended consequence,” he said, which is that “people say, ‘oh my god, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’”

But he made clear that the unintended consequence isn’t the fact that black individuals are primarily criminalized for cannabis offenses even though their white counterparts use marijuana at roughly the same rate. It’s the optics of that reality, he suggested.

“Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods,” the billionaire 2020 Democratic candidate said. “Yes, that’s true. Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is.”

He also defended the use of stop-and-frisk policing by arguing that it’s an effective way to deter individuals from unlawfully carrying firearms. “The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them against the wall and frisk them,” he said.

Here’s how people are reacting on Twitter, where the hashtag #BloombergIsRacist started trending:

Bloomberg released a statement responding to the controversy on Tuesday.

Though he didn’t directly respond to his remarks about crime being concentrated in minority communities or racial disparities in marijuana enforcement, he said said he “inherited the police practice of stop-and-frisk” and that it was “overused.”

“By the time I left office, I cut it back by 95 percent, but I should’ve done it faster and sooner,” he said. “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.”

“But this issue and my comments about it do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity,” he continued. “I believe we need to end mass incarceration and during my tenure we reduced incarceration by 40 percent and juvenile confinement by more than 60 percent.”

While Bloomberg apologized for promoting stop-and-frisk policing in the run-up to his presidential campaign announcement and has also evolved somewhat on cannabis issues by embracing simply decriminalization of possession, critics have questioned the authenticity of those positions, as it’s only been a few years since he held diametrically opposing views.

On marijuana reform in particular, it was just last year that he said legalizing marijuana is “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done”—a statement that he was recently pressed on by being asked whether he believes Colorado voters were stupid for approving legalization.

Bloomberg said he supports the right of states to enact cannabis programs, and he went on to say “what I really object to is putting people in jail for marijuana.”

“That’s really dumb,” he said of the cannabis criminalization policy he vociferously defended in the past.

Although he now backs modest reforms, Bloomberg—along with former Vice President Joe Biden—is one of only two Democratic presidential candidates in the race who do not support legalizing marijuana.

This story has been updated to include a statement from Bloomberg.

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Photo courtesy of Center for American Progress/Ralph Alswang.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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