This essay contains both imagery and text discussing and depicting violence. Some of the text discusses specifically sexual violence.
Parts of this essay might come off as a little over the top or melodramatic. I want to shock you into realizing, on a visceral level, what you may already know on an intellectual level. Prose on some topics should be a little purple.
If you kill someone using law and politics, they’re still dead
Bloomberg’s campaign has released a press statement:
“In response to repeated attacks by Bernie Sanders, his spokespeople and supporters”
The press release condemns what Bloomberg’s campaign sees as unfair attacks on the former New York Mayor. The examples of the ‘unfair’ attacks he gives are tweets from Sanders staffers and surrogates:
“If you wouldn’t even condone a tweet criticising a racist authoritarian like Bloomberg, you are a fence-sitting enabler of the worst variety and have no business holding yourself out as a Democrat- much less a progressive”
“Oligarch of the Month: Michael Bloomberg”
“Moreover, we have no reason to believe Bloomberg’s newfound political commitments. He has demonstrated a willingness to change his stripes with the political winds and because he’s self-funded, is literally accountable to no one. The danger he presents cannot be overstated.”
“Trump will say he has a better record on criminal justice than Bloomberg. And he may be right.
“I’m told Mike Bloomberg isn’t an “Oligarch”- he’s just a billionaire who buys elections and is a “part-time resident” of a foreign tax haven.
“I may not have a PhD (yet!) but I DO have the good sense of knowing what makes for Oligarchy. Anyone caping for a BILLIONAIRE (with a media company) able to buy endless ads & influence party rules halfway through is PRECISELY a perpetuator of the corrupt system- i.e. an Oligarch!
For the avoidance of doubt, I haven’t selected the tamest tweets. These are all the tweets Bloomberg’s campaign nominated as evidence of unfair treatment.
It is bold of a candidate to publish a definitive case against themselves in quote form. It is outrageous of this man to give these true accusations against himself as examples of how he has been wronged.
Let me give my assessment, less kind than these tweets. Michael Bloomberg is a murderer. I want you not just to know that he is a murderer, but to feel it. Even some of his staunchest critics- while they may be intellectually aware- haven’t felt the truth of it. Office, wealth and law conceal like gloves over crimson-slick hands. I don’t want you to think of him as a guy who messed up, I want you to think of him as fundamentally not unlike El Chapo. Both men knowingly implemented destructive policies through their subordinates which, as a foreseeable result, killed people.
The reader is probably aware that Michael Bloomberg was mayor of New York City during one of its most notorious “tough on crime” periods. We haven’t got space to fully illustrate this “tough” approach but the most frequently cited example is the stop and frisk policy. He was mayor for the 2003 to 2013 period during which the stop and frisk policy was stringently applied. Per Wikipedia:
“Between 2003 and 2013, over 100,000 stops were made per year, with 685,724 people being stopped at the height of the program in 2011. The program became the subject of a racial profiling controversy. The vast majority, 90% in 2017, of those stopped were African-American or Latino, most of whom were aged 14–24. Furthermore, 70% of all those stopped were later found to be innocent. By contrast, 54.1% of the population of New York City in 2010 was African-American or Latino; however, 74.4% of individuals arrested overall were of those two racial groups.”
Around 4 million people were subject to stop and frisk. For some innocent people, this resulted in years of incarceration before charges were dropped. Others went on their way less joyful and more frightened.
Numbers don’t give the fear, shock, shame, trauma and rage this program inflicted on the individuals targeted but also their families and loved ones. The population of New York City is 8.623 million. Half of those are men. Only a fraction is between 14 and 24, the age range of the majority of victims. Thus these four million stops were concentrated on a relatively small number of people. People were targeted over and over again and many were harassed in this way several times a day. Consider the dread you’d feel walking down the street if you fit the demographic profile.
After stop and frisk was cancelled, there was no sudden surge in crime. There is no “greater good” justification for this policy.
People can’t process numbers properly, so let’s talk about a particular case. This one isn’t a stop and frisk case but it exemplifies the cruel logic of “tough on crime”. It began almost ten years into Bloomberg’s mayoralty. There were many ways Bloomberg could have either prevented it or mitigated the severity. He didn’t.
Kalief Browder was sixteen when he was charged with stealing a backpack. I do not know if he stole the backpack. It would seem unlikely since the state couldn’t get enough evidence together to take the matter to trial. His accuser couldn’t even decide which week it happened. Overall, I couldn’t give a shit whether he stole the backpack or not, he was sixteen years old.
By requesting extension after extension they managed to drag out his case for over a thousand days because they could not secure their key witness. During this time Kalief, a minor, was in Riker’s prison. The strategy seemed to be that, since they could not get their witness to testify, they hoped Kalief would agree to a plea bargain, and they were willing to keep him in jail as long as it took to break him, rather than dropping the case.
While in Rikers he was:
Beaten by both prisoners and guards,
Kept in solitary for two years,
And toyed with by a vampiric legal system that refused to accept that their case wasn’t going to run.
A few years after being freed, he killed himself by hanging. His mother died a few years after that, possibly from the pain of fighting non-stop to prevent this from happening to others.
Two extracts from this excellent article
“[…] group of guards lined him and several other inmates up against a wall, trying to figure out who had been responsible for an earlier fight. “They’re talking to us about why did we jump these guys,” he said. “And as they’re talking they’re punching us one by one.” Browder said that he had nothing to do with the fight, but still the officers beat him; the other inmates endured much worse. “Their noses were leaking, their faces were bloody, their eyes were swollen,” he said. Afterward, the officers gave the teens a choice: go to the medical clinic or go back to bed. But they made it clear that, if the inmates went to the clinic and told the medical staff what had happened, they would write up charges against them, and get them sent to solitary confinement. “I just told them I’ll act like nothing happened,” Browder said. “So they didn’t send us to the clinic; they didn’t write anything up; they just sent us back.” The Department of Correction refused to respond to these allegations, or to answer any questions about Browder’s stay on Rikers. But the recent U.S. Attorney’s report about R.N.D.C. recounts many instances in which officers pressured inmates not to report beatings—to “hold it down,” in Rikers parlance.”
“For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.”
I cannot emphasize enough- the fuckers knew they had no case, they simply hoped to drag it out, so that their victim would accept a deal, or their star witness would become available.
Perhaps you are thinking “There are complexities and it’s a big apple. Bloomberg can’t have his eye on everything”. While it’s true there are complexities, there are things he could have done to prevent this. He’d had a long time to make things better at that point.
- He could have made standing policy that if the prosecution cannot get their case together after a certain period of time, the case must be dropped, especially if the accused is a juvenile and especially if the offence is something like stealing a backpack. We can argue what that period should be, but it’s certainly not more than a thousand days.
- Bloomberg could have made the prison system more humane, for e.g., by ensuring that no juveniles would be placed in solitary confinement for two years.
- Or by making sure that prisoners received adequate rations
- Bloomberg could have setup an oversight program effective enough to ensure no case had gone beyond justice into manifest cruelty- i.e., locking a child up without trial for three years.
This didn’t happen in the first, second or third year of the Bloomberg mayoralty. He wasn’t a new figurehead on the bow. He’d been captaining the ship for almost ten years. Perhaps even the best leaders will have horrific things happen under their charge, but we have no evidence that Bloomberg was striving hard to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
If the foreseeable consequences of your actions include death, and there is no good justification for those actions, you are a murderer. You can throw up legal and bureaucratic smoke, but from the point of view of the universe, Michael Bloomberg took actions, and as a result, people died. He had every reason to know something like this would happen. On what sensible definition is this not murder? Clearly, there are differences between Ted Bundy and Michael Bloomberg, but the similarities are more important.
As a side note, if anyone has the name of the prosecutor(s) who did this to Kalief, let me know. I’ve been looking for some time and can’t find anything. I’m not normally a believer in shaming, but I think it’s well past time they are publicly named, and hopefully, this will be exemplary to any prosecutors with similar bad habits.
The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth from the earth
There are certain things we tend to “forget”, due to our natural conditioning- despite knowing them on an intellectual level. For example, the inevitability of our own death. In order to combat this “emotional” ignorance, Buddhism developed a technique called Maraṇasati, or “mindfulness of death”. You remind yourself that you will die by visualizing yourself as a rotting corpse.
Another thing we know on an intellectual level, but never fully emotionally process, is that people like Michael Bloomberg have killed people. Once again, the gloves of law hide the blood on men’s hands. It’s so hard to remember this man is morally not so different from Jeffery Dahmer because actions performed in a legal framework of sovereign power just “feel” outside the normal logic of ethical accountability.
Let’s breakthrough this conditioning.
I want you to remember that Kalief Browder is one person. It’s hard as a human to imagine large numbers, but try to magnify that story by thousands. These other stories may not be not as sad, but they are still devastating.
Now, in order to break the conditioning that leads us to excuse these types of actions when performed by people like Michael Bloomberg, imagine Bloomberg doing these things himself. Bloomberg beating Kalief Browder. Bloomberg personally imprisoning him alone in a cell for hundreds of days. Bloomberg withholding his food. Bloomberg stringing along a judge about the strength of his case. Bloomberg watching on indifferently as Kalief kills himself.
Two mantras might be useful here:
Bloomberg is a murderer who, due to oddities in our society, is not treated as one.
Politics is about questions of life and death, suffering and liberation. If the political conversation is about consistently about something else, someone is trying to distract me.
Do not let anyone forget
Bloomberg is trying to take the focus off his record. He wants everyone talking about how aggressive Bernie Bros are and how mean they are to call him out like this. Don’t let him get away with this. Don’t let him, or his supporters, or anyone else, forget the blood. Respond to this nonsense about Bernie Bros in a way that keeps the focus on who Bloomberg is and what’s he’s done.
On the same topic, anyone who ever said that they cannot support Bernie Sanders because he wasn’t woke enough on issues of race and who now supports Michael Bloomberg was either lying to themselves or lying to everyone else. The same is true of anyone who supports Bloomberg and said they can’t support Bernie because:
“He hasn’t released his tax returns”
“He is 78”
“He has had a heart attack”
“He hasn’t released his medical details”
“He isn’t properly a democrat”
All these things are also true of Bloomberg.
I’m not saying Bloomberg can’t change. Redemption is always possible, but it hasn’t happened yet. He has apologized for the effects of stop and frisk, which is positive. However, he has tens of billions of dollars- so why no Bloomberg fund for the victims of his policies?
Would a contrite man call “unacceptable” a tweet like:
“Trump will say he has a better record on criminal justice than Bloomberg. And he may be right.”
Or would he accept the criticism and try to do better? It might be different if Bloomberg were a private person, trying to move on from his past, but he’s running for president. To act like you’re allowed to wave this criticism off when contending for the world’s most powerful office simply because you’ve apologized is unacceptable.
The path is always open. Bloomberg could, at any point in time, publicly apologise over what he did to Browder and set up a fund to compensate the victims of similar travesties. He hasn’t yet, and I’ll hazard he never will.
Postscript: Is this is too broad?
A number of readers have suggested that the standards I outline here imply that almost every single politician who oversees the operation of the pointy arm of the state, in an executive role, is a murderer. I’ve got two things to say to that.
My first response to this is that yes, an awful lot of them are.
My second response is that the test I have in mind is not just “have they caused people to die?” It’s “Have they caused people to die with no good excuse?”. We can be lenient about what counts as a good excuse, for example, if Bloomberg had done what he could to make New York’s justice system less deadly, but couldn’t do anymore at the risk of losing all his political capital and being replaced by someone who would do worse things, then I would be much less inclined to call him a murderer. Bloomberg was not trying his best.