I recently had the opportunity to attend a breakfast at Gracie Mansion with a small group of African-American and Latino clergy and community leaders. The intention was to have a meeting with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss issues in our local communities that impact Latino and African-American males.
The meeting was convened by the mayor’s office, and initially I was quite intrigued and excited by the opportunity to discuss salient issues that impact so many in our communities. Five minutes into the meeting, it became quite clear that this meeting, and its stated intent, was a farce.
One of the things that Bloomberg stated in the beginning of the meeting was that he had a little over a year and a half remaining in office. It was at that moment that I realized the unspoken message he was communicating. It seemed as though he was basically saying that in his short time remaining in office, there was not going to be much done to resolve some of the most impactful issues like stop-and-frisk.
Let me be clear, the mayor never said this, but I’ve been around long enough to discern when I’m in the midst of a symbolic gathering that has no intention of finding resolutions. I, as well as others, expressed our concern with the dehumanizing and humiliating police policy of stop-and-frisk. As person after person expressed heartfelt frustrations and offered potential plans to curb the tensions in many communities between police and residents, the mayor seemed unmoved and uninterested. At every turn, Bloomberg responded with statistics about how violent crime in the city was down and that, in spite of the bad that came with stop-and-frisk, it was a policy he believed was getting guns off of the streets and reducing gun-related crimes.
Bloomberg is intoxicated with numbers and statistics. It is obvious that he wants to leave office with numbers that reflect his success as mayor. The tragedy is that when you reduce your success to what the numbers say, you lose sight of how people may have been affected by policies that led to statistical success but wreaked havoc on the soul of particular communities.
As the mayor bombarded us with statistics, I said to him that there are certain realities that cannot be measured. How do you measure the demoralizing affect of stop-and-frisk? How do you measure when people feel as though they are living in occupied territories? How do you measure the angst and nihilism that is birthed in a young Black male who is randomly searched and debased? How do you measure when certain communities have to teach their children how to protect themselves from the police?
At one point, the mayor stated that part of his hope for the gathering was to find solutions to some of the issues and concerns that plague our communities, but it was hard for me to be hopeful when I felt like I was engaging someone who was uncaring and unconcerned. It is absurd to fraudulently gather people together for an hour to somehow find solutions to problems that have been building for years.
My irritation reached its height when, at the end of what seemed like a pointless and fruitless meeting, the mayor invited us to take pictures with him. In that moment, I wondered if Moses would have posed for a photo opportunity with Pharaoh. It is one thing to invite me to a symbolic and pointless meeting, but it is something entirely different when you think you can manipulate my presence for the sake of political expediency. I politely removed my name badge, placed it on the table and walked out of Gracie Mansion because I was not going to smile for a picture with Pharaoh.