Published on December 4th, 2019 | by Candace Simpson
The Right to Remember: Michael Bloomberg’s Apology to Black People
“Turn away from mortals, who have only breath in their nostrils, for of what account are they?”
Seven years ago on Father’s Day, my family and church community participated in a march against stop and frisk in New York City. I was thankful for that space. Right after worship in church, we continued worship through the act of public demonstration. Thanks be to God for a church community that honors protest as a faithful act.
When my family piled into the van to head back home, the news started playing a clip of then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was talking to a church filled with Black folks. I felt rage bubbling like heartburn.
He began with on-brand New Yorker dog-whistle racism. He gave a long speech including all the right ingredients for avoiding being called a racist.
He mentioned Obama. He mentioned Juneteenth. He shouted out the dads and father figures in the congregation. He mentioned God three times. He mentioned a meeting with Rev. Al Sharpton. He said “we are our brother’s keeper.” He mentioned a program called the Young Men’s Initiative, and gestured towards his desire to “help Black and Latino youth overcome the odds and succeed.” In this space, he knew exactly what he was doing. In a church full of Black people, he pandered. He gave winks and nods to the fact that this world is racist, without acknowledging the roots and fuels of such racism.
After this speech, congregants (and New Yorkers like myself who would later hear this speech on the radio) were to come away with this main point– Mayor Bloomberg is telling us that Stop-and-Frisk policies are for our own good as Black people. I wondered.
Did he know that today we were protesting that very thing? Of course he did.
Were there people here at this protest who had to sit through his speech at church this morning? Maybe.
Why do people like Bloomberg pretend to care about my safety when it’s really about their ability to control?
Some years later, I know that the timing of that speech was intentional. That he was choosing to pander to Black folks’ political imagination during the intimate and sacred worship hour, on this of all days. That he was trying to control a narrative that was soon spiraling out of his control. Because on this very day, thousands of people were marching to resist his very idea.
Black people are not inherently more criminal than anyone else, and policing and prisons do not make us any safer or healthier. But it is a politically strategic move to suggest to a church of Black people that “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you deserve nothing but respect and courtesy.” Because sadly, many people have been primed by our faith to imagine that punishment comes after “backsliding.” And if we believe in a God who polices us, who sees us as so sinful that God’s own son should be sacrificed to atone for us, who requires suffering and persecution as payment for blessings (and not just as something that happens for other reasons), it is not that much of a stretch to imagine a God who allows and supports stop and frisk.
Because it’s for our own good, of course. If we have nothing to be ashamed of, we should allow God (and people who believe they are God) to stop us, search us, frisk us, punish us. I don’t take that kind of behavior from God. And I won’t take it from the people on the ballot, either.
So when I watched a recent eleven minute video of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg talking about his regret about stop-and-frisk at Christian Cultural Center, I saw red.
Michael Bloomberg should be ashamed. And we should notice what he’s up to. He’s counting on us to forget who he is. But we have the right to remember.
Conveniently timed with his now confirmed presidential run, Bloomberg has been telling the world that he’s sorry. He’s not telling police unions, “hey y’all, we shouldn’t engage stop and frisk as a policy,” and he’s not telling housing developers, “hey y’all, the more we build luxury condos, the more we make a wedge of inequality in this city.” He decided to come to Black folks during worship. Not because he is “sorry,” but because he knows he cannot win without Black votes.
What we should acknowledge is that many churches (Black or otherwise) are bedfellows with White Supremacy. I do not wish to engage the critical cliche, “there’s Churches that are Black and then there’s The Black Church” as a rhetorical move. To me, it’s an increasingly suspicious way to move the goalposts when we try to hold our own folks accountable.
But what I can say is that as Black Christians, we must become educated and empowered voters. We must refuse to take scraps from oppressive leaders. We cannot keep giving oppressors platforms to spew poison. And while many conversations about forgiveness have centered individual actors and hugs, we do not often consider the ways we have forgiven politicians and made amends by voting for them again and again and again. Even without a clear plan for reparations and transformative relationship restoration. Basically, how am I to believe that Bloomberg really means that he is sorry? What evidence, what steps, what projects, what examples, what radically transformed ways of being do I have to point to? Nothing. As the saints say, “I was born at night, but not last night.”
We have to notice when people are controlling and spinning the narrative. We have to remember how people have treated us. Especially as the presidential election moves towards us in 2020, we have the right to remember. We have the right to record, to tell stories, to pull up receipts. Yes, people change. People grow. People evolve.
And also, powers lie.
So we, the People, tell the truth.
That’s how we survive. Remembering who was there, whose foot was on your neck, who sent our loved ones away, who made it impossible to live here, whose administration invested in the privatization of public schools… We reclaim the stories they’ve rewritten. And we tell it to generations following.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com