Bill de Blasio’s victory in the Democratic mayoral primary last night may well be the beginning of New York City finally turning a corner for real on race – and possibly serving as a beacon for the rest of the country.
Of course, to Mayor Bloomberg, de Blasio’s calling attention to his black wife, mixed-race son with the big Afro, and the city’s stop-and-frisk policies was “racist.” Dead wrong – Bloomberg has done a great deal right for New York but he has a tragically tin ear on the race thing.
Few understand how central excessive stop-and-frisk policies are in teaching blacks and Latinos that they are aliens in their own land. Wonder why so many of them think of racism as a clear and present danger in 2013? Ask them and count the seconds until the cops come up.
Opinions will differ as to whether de Blasio should utterly discontinue stop-and-frisk as he has suggested, and doing as much stopping and frisking on the Upper East Side as in Bushwick would be performance art. However, under Bloomberg the policy has simply morphed far beyond the reasonable. No matter how you look at it, 120,000 black and Latino boys between 14 and 18 stopped in New York in 2012 was not a society functioning properly.
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As such, de Blasio placing his brown-skinned son in a tide-turning commercial was not a callow stunt. It was an articulate statement of intent about a crucial issue. It was more meaningful than Bill Thompson’s just being black himself, and it’s a sign of the times that the black community registered its meaning and gave so much of their vote to de Blasio despite his whiteness. De Blasio’s family situation shows that the stop-and-frisk problem is everybody’s issue, not just a “black” problem.
That’s because a policy that makes black boys grow up thinking of white people as a menace is a policy that creates more of the kind of black men people are weary of. Say you grow up feeling under siege by police. The cops are authority, and it’s a short step from distrusting them to distrusting society beyond the hood. Pretty soon you have a tacit idea that the rules shouldn’t apply to you, at least not as much as they do to other (that is, white) people. As such, for reasons not your fault, you have become a nuisance. You seem uncivil, uncooperative. You are alienated and you have a chip on your shoulder.
The Mayor and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly tell us stop-and-frisk has been key to getting the city’s crime rate so much lower than it used to be – but no one has shown that the rates had to be this viciously high. De Blasio will likely soon be in a position to try an experiment this city – and nation – desperately needs to carry out.
MORE: The Ad That Won the New York Mayor’s Race
If one generation of black and Latino boys grow up without a sense of white cops as an enemy barging in on innocent people’s lives on a regular basis, then they will become a generation of black and Latino adult men without the “don’t tread on me” demeanor that tends, in vicious cycle style, to attract and stir up the exact kind of treatment that created it. Let’s stop the cycle.
Bill de Blasio’s reign could be the beginning of something big in this city. If what he’s about is “racist,” then let’s have more of it.