The Leaving of It

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It seems like everyone else isn’t the only one hurrying to put a bow on the mayoral tenure of New York’s Mike Bloomberg — Bloomberg himself is sealing the box, and forgetting about any airholes.

He’s in a scramble now not so much to do something as to prove he did. Legacy is as much his concern as overturn is for his aspiring successors. And sadly, the zeal to have been right rather than have done good has set in, and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere.

In that game, appearance is more important than results. While Bloomberg has always been fond of pronouncing how safe his city has gotten, his police department’s stop-and-frisk policy makes life a potential daily gauntlet for people of color whom statistics show are singled out as presumptive criminals in overwhelming numbers.

Good old-fashioned martial law doesn’t bother to take something away from all “our” rights for a feeling of security, it just targets a specific class or community. But New Yorkers overall aren’t standing for it, with the policy widely criticized and the City Council voting to appoint an inspector general to monitor the NYPD, and to allow people to file racial profiling claims against the police in state court — while Bloomberg shows what he does stand for by fighting this, and insisting that the figures support his view that “minorities” aren’t stopped enough.

The vow to veto both a special inspector and citizens’ right to redress is an attempt to cancel out the very court of public scrutiny in which Bloomberg has often won (and sometimes deserved to); he, however, gets to continue speaking his mind, albeit in a way that badly misreads the public desire for straight talk (that is, a desire for tough truths rather than stubborn stereotypes). In this he manages to rhetorically go way beyond the polarizing rule of his axiomatically racist predecessor, even though Bloomberg’s era is not as known for the murderous extremes of racial targeting and unaccountable authority that Giuliani’s was.

Of course, injustice-as-usual can be much worse; it certainly tends to last a lot longer. And Bloomberg’s enthusiasm to lift up what was really going on and lock it in place is the way to erase a legacy rather than underscore it. I saw what he did there. And he’s right, I won’t forget it.

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