Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential bid ignited national scrutiny of the billionaire’s behavior toward women and the policies he promoted during his tenure as New York City mayor between 2002 and 2013. Above all, Bloomberg experienced the most criticism over New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy, a controversial practice that is still in place but was ramped up under his leadership.
While Black and Latinx New Yorkers continue to be disproportionately stopped under the policy, the practice has seen a dramatic decline since Bloomberg’s time in office. Since 2014, the New York Police Department has reported making an average of 10,000 stops per year, a far cry from 2011, when there were more than 700,000. At the height of Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign, thousands of Twitter users began sharing their own personal experiences with stop-and-frisk using the hashtag #MyBloombergStory. The stories have encouraged a much-needed national conversation about Bloomberg’s approach to policing and incarceration. However, the discussion about stop and frisk still largely excludes the unique ways women and queer communities were impacted by the policy.
While Bloomberg officially exited the presidential race on March 4, he is still currently being considered for positions within the Biden administration—assuming his former opponent becomes the Democratic nominee and wins the November general election. Bloomberg’s ongoing presence on the national stage warrants a continued conversation about his political history. Evaluating how stop and frisk uniquely impacted women and queer people of color under Bloomberg’s leadership allows us to consider the ways in which these communities are still harmed by violent policing practices.
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Across Bloomberg’s three terms, NYPD recorded 5,081,689 stops. These stops disproportionately impacted Black and brown New Yorkers, who accounted for 85%. In addition to the policy’s clear racist overtones, it was also proven to be wildly inefficient, with a remarkably low rate of arrests.
In 2011 alone, NYPD stopped roughly 685,000 New Yorkers, including 46,784 women. Of those women, nearly 16,000 were frisked. Guns were found in only 59 cases.
As New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in 2013 following an analysis of stop-and-frisk data, “With a 90% failure rate, the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program remains a tremendous waste of resources, sows mistrust between police and communities of color, and routinely violates fundamental rights.”
Under the policy, NYPD officers have been able to stop New York residents with impunity. For women, frisks—which required officers to focus on the waistband, armpit, collar and groin areas as they slide their hands over external clothing—can not only breed fear and humiliation, but also reek of sexual intimidation.
“Absolutely this was targeting male New Yorkers, and of course Black and Latinx male New Yorkers,” says Nahal Zamani, the advocacy program manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), “But if you are a woman, or if you’re trans or gender non-conforming, or if you’re queer, the way that you experience your policing encounter is highly sexualized, incredibly sexualized. It was almost guaranteed that it would be.”
Zamani led the research and development of CCR’s groundbreaking 2012 report “Stop and Frisk: The Human Impact.” The report uses interviews with an array of New Yorkers to relay the human cost of violent policing and teases out how different communities within the city have experienced stop and frisk. Sections on race, gender, and sexual orientation reveal how police encounters unfolded in unique ways for people of different identities. That story-sharing and amplification was illuminating for readers and an important step for participants who had not often been included in conversations about policing.
“A lot of people felt like their experiences based on their gender identity were being uplifted with this higher narrative of this being a problem that only affected straight men, which was definitely not the case,” says Zamani. “So there was affirmation too of New Yorkers who were experiencing this type of really harmful policing to have their stories told.”
The report illuminates the ways that the NYPD frequently targeted transgender communities, particularly transgender women of color for whom stop and frisks can be a common occurrence because of their sexuality and gender expression alone. Trans women were and continue to be a target for NYPD discrimination, and are often profiled for loitering, prostitution, or having fake IDs when the gender on their identification does not align with how an officer might perceive them. Further, invasive “gender checks,” which can amount to violent groping, was a practice that Zamani often heard about in her interviews with trans men and women for the report.
Current efforts to repeal “walking while trans” bans illustrate how many of the experiences illuminated in CCR’s research from over eight years ago have not changed significantly.
“I think the dynamics that folks are facing today are not radically different, like the equating gender nonconformity with sex work, and then of course this hard carceral response to that,” says Zamani. “It’s our job to draw the connection to how this resonates with policing today and we still have a lot to do.”
The following are excerpts from interviews conducted by CCR in 2012. That year, over 14,000 women were subject to stops by the NYPD. These interviews have been transcribed and edited by Prism for brevity and clarity.
Note: The following contain descriptions of sexual violence and transphobia.
“I was going to the public library near Prospect Park and I went to return some due books with a friend who was male-identified. We were trying to find a train station and [the officer] stopped us on that side of the street, asked us for our IDs, and asked where we were coming from. We told him we were coming from the library.
He then said, ‘Then why are you on this side? I know you were in the park.’ He then asked us, ‘Did [you] have a good time in there? How many blow jobs did we give out?’ They asked my friend if he was my boyfriend.
At the time, my ID said female as I was in the process of changing my documents to female so that I could start my transition and he told me, ‘No, the other ID. Your real ID. Do you have another form of ID?’ I told him no, that was my only ID.
He then told us that [he had] been watching us and [that he knew we had] been in the park. He started telling us that he would take us in [to the police station], to make it easier on [us] and to stop lying and help him out and give us a break.
I was scared. I was scared not because we were in the park. I was scared because this guy was relentless. I told him the truth. I told him I just came out of the library and I started thinking about all of the things I could have done, should have done.
Because of this incident, every time I go to the library they offer you a receipt for when you return items. I make sure that I always get my return receipt because I just feel like if I would have had that, I wouldn’t have this guy riding me and my friend so hard. I was so terrified, I started to tear up.”
“He said ‘give me your ID’ and I asked him why and he did not give me an answer so I asked him again and he told me ‘give me your ID.’ He just kept repeating it. I kept asking him ‘Why? I live right here,’ and he grabbed my arm without any notification or anything. He grabbed my arm, pulled it back, and since I had my phone in my hand, I just took my ID out because I was carrying it and was like, ‘Here!’
I never cursed him out, never said anything negative, racist, nothing like that. I politely stated, ‘Here’s my ID. I live right there,’ and he pulled me towards the same store where the guy was getting patted [down] and he wrote me a ticket. Then, one of the other officers approached me and he was like, ‘You should have just given him your ID,’ and I was like ‘But he never explained to me—what did I do wrong?’
One of the officers I kept speaking to asked me about my school and what I wanted to do and I told him I wanted to be a lawyer. The one that gave me a ticket said ‘Ha! You’ll never be that, trust me. I’ll give you a ticket where you won’t ever be that.’ That’s exactly what he said to me.”
“Last summer, I was walking on 86th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. I came from the movie theater and I’m just walking with my friend when I got pulled over by two police guys in a van and they called me and I was like, ‘Okay.’ I was very kind. ‘How are you doing officer? Can I help you?’
They come out of the car and they say, ‘You are under arrest.” I ask, ‘Why am I getting arrested?’
“Because you’re beautiful.”
And I just got arrested. So I just keep my mouth shut because I didn’t want to get hit or pushed around. I found out two days later that I was being charged on solicitation and misconduct and they said I was prostituting myself and they even said I had condoms on me. Of course I did not have condoms on me. They said that I was facing a year in jail just for walking on the street … and being beautiful.
I feel powerless. I feel powerless and I feel violated. I feel humiliated and my rights—they never even bothered to read me my rights. They just [told] me to keep my mouth shut.
They call me mister, and they call me names like ‘faggot.’
‘Why do you want to be a woman? You look like a woman! You fool me! I would do you!’
And when they arrested me, they kind of grabbed my body in a sexual way and they even asked me if my breasts were real and I was like, why are they even allowed to ask those things? It’s my privacy.”
“You’re numb to it now. This is what they do. It’s almost like we wait for the reaction. We wait for them to say something. So in a way we kind of… not that we look for the situation but it’s almost like it’s entertainment because it’s like I know you’re going to fuck with me. I’ve been seeing you my whole life these same cops, these same detectives.”
The stories above were collected eight years ago but still ring true for women and LGBTQ+ individuals today, both in New York City and in communities all across the country. In 2010, a national study by The Cato Institute found that sexual misconduct was the second most-common form of police misconduct. In 2015, an investigation by The Buffalo Newsfound that an officer is accused of sexual misconduct every five days. For trans women, particularly trans women of color who generally face higher risks of murder, the likelihood of facing violence from police is also high.
The sexualized nature of police intimidation and abuse remains pervasive but is still left out of larger conversations about stop and frisk and police violence more broadly. This suggests a public unwillingness to see how women and LGTBQ+ people experience policing. Moments of reflection, like the #MyBloombergStory campaign, offer crucial opportunities to render those experiences visible and reveal how politicians like Bloomberg played a monumental part in designing them. It’s an opportunity that must be taken not just in recognition of the past but to also prevent similar harms from occurring again—a threat that looms particularly large as Bloomberg is poised to potentially assume a new position of power in the near future.
To hear the full audio interviews conducted by CCR, visit “Stories of Stop and Frisk.”