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Stop-and-Frisk Cost NYC $1 Billion in Civil Suits over Police Misconduct While Bloomberg Was Mayor

Web ExclusiveFebruary 27, 2020
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We continue our interview with Bob Hennelly, an award-winning reporter for The Chief-Leader, who covered billionaire Michael Bloomberg during his time as New York City mayor, as a reporter for WNYC. He discusses how Bloomberg grew his wealth and dealt with ethics conflict as mayor, and discusses how during Bloomberg’s tenure New York City settled civil suits related to police misconduct that cost city taxpayers $1 billion.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 of our conversation with Bob Hennelly, award-winning reporter, now with The Chief-Leader, covered billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor of New York City. Bloomberg’s record was again the focus of several questions during the South Carolina Tuesday night debate. This is moderator Gayle King questioning Michael Bloomberg.

GAYLE KING: Mayor Bloomberg, I’d like to bring you in this conversation. I want to ask you about a question that impacts the black and brown community. You’ve apologized for stop-and-frisk repeatedly. What exactly are you apologizing for?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We let it get out of control. And when I realized that, I cut it back by 95%. And I’ve apologized and asked for forgiveness. I’ve met with black leaders to try to get an understanding of how I can better position myself and what I should have done and what I should do next time. But let me tell you, I have been working very hard. We’ve improved the school system for black and brown students in New York City. We’ve increased the jobs that are available to them. We’ve increased the housing that’s available to them. We have programs like —

GAYLE KING: But what more can you do about this issue, Mr. Mayor, to put people’s fears and skepticism to rest?

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I think they just —

GAYLE KING: It continues to follow you.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: No. Well, that’s because it’s in their interest to promote that. But if you talk to the people in New York City, I have over a hundred black elected officials that have endorsed me. A lot of them are in the audience tonight. And I’ve earned the respect of people in New York City.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in Tuesday night’s debate in Charleston, South Carolina, as we continue with Bob Hennelly, the award-winning reporter who covered Mayor Bloomberg for all three terms.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to this? And also, I mean, we ended Part 1 of our conversation on this.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: But the number is 5 million incidents of stop-and-frisk.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: This is not a few bad apples. This is 5 million, many young people, especially black and brown young men, but young women were also stopped, stopped numerous times as they grew up in New York City.

BOB HENNELLY: It was — covering it as a beat reporter, it was a form of armed apartheid. It’s really important to understand that, that in areas where this was used as a strategy. And it was something where, at the time, because The Chief-Leader covers public unions, the PBA, hardly a Marxist front organization, were — 

AMY GOODMAN: The Police Benevolence Association.

BOB HENNELLY: Yes. Pat Lynch was saying, “This is a quota system. This is destroying the relationship we have with the community.”

AMY GOODMAN: Explain quota system.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, the quota system is that when you go out and you start your precinct, you have to have so many of these DD5s, which is the documentation that you made the stop. So it drove police to this numerical thing. And this goes to Bloomberg’s data obsession. You see, that’s the disconnect. The thing about billionaires is, when you — you know, if you’re eccentric and you hoard and you’re poor, we call a social worker. If you’re Mike Bloomberg and you hoard, you get to be president. And so, this idea of fixating on data points was driven throughout the city. And it had an impact on the civil service, to the point that they were communicating back, “This is going to alienate these communities that we need to do a good job on law enforcement with.”

It really — the one positive thing is it forged — Amy, I wouldn’t — if I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve covered the city for decades. It actually forged an alliance — and you’re probably aware of this — of Latino and African-American politicians. New York City had always been very factional. The abuse of this was so horrendous, and the incidental deaths that happened, assaults, illegal —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, in these interactions, when you go from like 80,000 to 675,000 of the interactions a year, that are driven just by a quota system, bad things happen, because the police are put into a situation where they don’t have moral authority, which is what’s essential for effective law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: So they throw a kid up against the wall.

BOB HENNELLY: And who knows what comes out of that?

AMY GOODMAN: They put their hands through their pockets.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: They might have a gun to their head. And then they’re on their way. They don’t arrest them.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, and what happens then is sometimes, in that reaction, if a young person doesn’t have exactly the right protocol, their life can be ruined. They can end up in Rikers. And that’s it, further notice. So, when you talked before about the damage done to taxpayers, this is something that we’re living with —

AMY GOODMAN: And repeat, for people who didn’t hear it the —

BOB HENNELLY: Right, a billion dollars in bad police behavior tort payouts, where the city of New York had to pay out, to satisfy claims for the police — violated people’s civil rights, physically abused them. And the thing about it is, we’re living with the consequences of that today in the form of ruined lives, in terms of a prison-industrial complex that is alive and well. It did foster, in reaction to Bloomberg, a major progressive coalition, multiracial coalition, bringing in Bill de Blasio, who was elected primarily because his son, who is partially African-American, fronted his campaign and —

AMY GOODMAN: Dante.

BOB HENNELLY: Right — connected to the core of what New York City was feeling. And what’s important to understand is, while this was happening, this abusive police practice, Michael Bloomberg, at the same time, when there was a crime wave on Wall Street, during the Great Recession, when Wall Street pillaged MLK Boulevard and Main Street with the foreclosure wave, any mild effort that President Obama made to try to hold the banks accountable, Michael Bloomberg would hold press conferences and press back on it. He would give succor and comfort to the Jamie Dimons. He actually came up with an alternative theory of the universe, that it was the fault of the people being thrown out of their homes that they had a home in the first place, because the banks were responding to redlining, an historic racist practice.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. So, this is very, very important, and I’d like you to reiterate it, this point of the backdrop of the more than a decade of Mayor Bloomberg being mayor of New York, this massive number, millions of stops-and-frisks —

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: — in the poorer communities, in the communities of color in New York, and what he was doing in the rest of the city at that time, on Wall Street.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right. He turned also New York City into a luxury good in terms of housing. And because I cover things as a beat reporter, I was talking to civil servants who had to move further and further out during the time he was there, because you could no longer — even with a cop, say, with five years’ experience, and your spouse is maybe a nurse, right? You had to move further and further away.

AMY GOODMAN: From New York City itself.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, because all of that housing, the SROs, the places where the elderly could find sanctuary, that was all destroyed and made way for the billionaire class to build these — I think the Times, to their credit, did a story that showed how many of these penthouses were empty except for one period of time between Christmas and New Year’s. So, this dispossession of the working class, Michael Bloomberg drove. During that period of time, homelessness was off the hook. And we’re enduring with that humanitarian crisis to this very day.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you can also talk about what happened directly on Wall Street, actually, Bloomberg versus Obama?

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: The man who is blanketing — his voice is blanketing Bloomberg ads.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, exactly. I do hope that someone, you know, who’s on the A list of reporters in the country — and I include you — if you ever do have an opportunity to ask President Obama, “Was there a phone call made before those ads ran?” The lack of political reporting being done to ask aggressively, and respectfully, as you so often do, “By the way, did anyone call you from the Bloomberg campaign before this massive air assault?” Where if you turn the volume down and you haven’t been around the block a bit, you’d think that President Obama has endorsed him.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s happening in these ads?

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s play one of them right now.

NARRATOR: A great president and an effective mayor, leadership that makes a difference.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He’s been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years. Mr. Michael Bloomberg is here.

NARRATOR: Together, they worked to combat gun violence, and again, to improve education for every child.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to thank the mayor of this great city, Mayor Bloomberg, for his extraordinary leadership. I share your determination to bring this country together to finally make progress for the American people.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I’m Mike Bloomberg, and I approve this message.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what we just played was an ad of Michael Bloomberg. He’s spending hundreds of millions of dollars — 

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — on his ads. And constantly you see this President Obama hailing him as a mayor. It’s a, you know, fair-use news clip.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, exactly right.

AMY GOODMAN: But it gives the impression that, as you said, that President Obama’s endorsing Bloomberg. So, talk about what was happening on Wall Street, Bloomberg, actually, at the time, versus Obama.

BOB HENNELLY: Right. Well, one of the things is that the machines and Bloomberg LP was very dependent on the financialization and the commodification of mortgages. That was the big business. So if it was moving on Wall Street and making fortunes for the top point 0.001%, Michael Bloomberg enabled it. So he saw the world and this crisis of humanity through the prism of those individuals that were his friends.

At the same time — there’s a great book, Confidence Men, by Ron Suskind that describes those first two years of the presidency, Obama’s presidency. So much hope. I mean, I had a chance to interview him. And basically, the book talks about Summers and Geithner trying to keep Elizabeth Warren out of the White House, because she was trying to follow up and have them break up at least one bank.

And what ended up happening was, during that period of time, occasionally, President Obama would do something, say, about offshore transparency or something, because that’s the important thing for people to understand, is much of what happened, the mugging of America, was done through the offshore mechanisms. Bear Stearns collapsed as a consequence of manipulation in the Cayman Islands. This parallel universe, which you’ve covered so well on this program, has been about creating these alternative structures that individuals can avail themselves of. An example, Delaware limited liability corporations, it permits you to have an entity and seem like a company, and you’re located in a mail drop in Delaware. This is something used by organized crime, by the Mafia. It’s also used by media corporations — and that’s very important understand — to hide themselves in a way that they don’t have to disclose beneficial ownership. And the Delaware courts really protect financial interests over that of consumers and even plaintiff lawyers. So, this entire structure — and I include the Fox, Time — any big capital enterprise these days has these structures, that puts all of us at a tremendous disadvantage.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s not forget that Vice President Biden, before that, Senator Biden, representing his home state of Delaware.

BOB HENNELLY: Right. And then, moreover, the thing that’s so critical here is that I don’t know how he can even address student debt. The critical thing — I say this as someone who will probably work until I’m dead, because I had the radical notion of wanting to educate — we wanted to educate our three daughters. And the truth is that because student debt is not dischargeable by bankruptcy, it created a kind of suppression of young people, where they can’t ever escape it. And there’s consequence here from a macroeconomic standpoint, which is a declining birth rate and young people stuck forever because they’re debt slaves, because this debt is social control.

AMY GOODMAN: But explain what that has to do with this presidential election and with Mayor Bloomberg.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, because one of the things — one of the big problems here is that we got Donald Trump in 2016 because the mainstream corporate media thought there was a recovery. At the highest levels of this country, the elites thought that President Obama had delivered a recovery. In point of fact, if you look at something data-like from the National Association of Counties, a small percentage of the 3,000-some-odd counties actually experienced a recovery. So the unraveling, as I’ve written about in so many venues, continued. So, 6,000 empty homes in Cleveland, the hollowing out of the Rust Belt, it’s continuing to this day. But it didn’t fit the corporate narrative. And so, when they went to run on recovery, 700,000 African Americans, many of whom had lost their homes, stayed home for that election. And they’re going to do it again.

They are just as blind now. Why do I say that? Out of the last four years, three we’ve had a decline in the average life expectancy of America. We’ve had a decline in the birth rate in this country, which bodes very — I mean, you can make a conscious choice not to procreate. But for the young people that might want to, they can’t because of the social control of student debt. So, you see, there’s so many areas where the country is coming apart. And we don’t see an accurate reflection of that reality. I’ll give us something: bus drivers being assaulted across the country, EMTs being assaulted, tens of thousands of homeless people, severely mentally ill, across the country in libraries. I mean, it’s insane.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, even as they talk about the low unemployment rate, you have to look at what it means —

BOB HENNELLY: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: — when you have 53 million Americans making less than $18,000 a year, $10.22 an hour. Now, two-thirds of the low-wage workers ages 25 to 54, prime working years, we’re talking about making less than $18,000 a year. Yet they’re included in the low unemployment rate.

BOB HENNELLY: Right. But you also have to factor in 130 million Americans dealing with medical debt. You have to talk about — I mean, what really happened, and those of us of a certain age saw it happen, in the 1970s wages stopped growing. They declined and stayed flat. What was substituted was household debt. So, what we have here is a nation increasingly in debt. And at the same time, and this is the craziest thing that is a part of this, because of Donald Trump’s tax cuts and the reckless spending on defense spending, we’re now at the point where we’ve borrowed so much for these weapons and this never-ending “global war on terrorism,” that actually the interest payment, that service, that credit card service charge, is $700 billion and rivals the amount of money we spend on the Pentagon annually.

AMY GOODMAN: But let’s go back to Michael Bloomberg —

BOB HENNELLY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — who you have covered for three terms —

BOB HENNELLY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — and what this has to do with his amassing of wealth —

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — and also his governing in New York City.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, it’s funny, because he has spoken out on behalf of this military-industrial complex, by the way. Of all the people up there, he’s very much in support of that. Wherever there’s a large capital formation, Mayor Mike is your man. One of the things that’s happened is he really believes in this financialization as a way of measuring successes entirely.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what you mean by “financialization.”

BOB HENNELLY: Well, because there’s a lot of scholarship that shows that at one time back in the day, banks used to serve the community. There was a bakery, a barber shop, a fire department, and there was a bank. Now, everyone serves the bank. And so, increasingly, every relationship that you have is driven by this debt that you’ve taken on. And particularly it’s pronounced for young people, which is why — that’s why when the mainstream media is so surprised about the durability of Bernie Sanders, they don’t understand a generation that’s bookended by 9/11 and the Great Recession. And so, that’s their circumstance. That’s why socialism doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain a bit more — you started in Part 1 of our discussion talking about the Bloomberg financial —

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — the actual business that he built —

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: — these terminals —

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — and how he did it and who benefited and who didn’t.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, one of the things that happens is the concentration and centralization of information and the importance of having certain people have access to it. I mean, that’s the thing that drives financial markets. And I’ve done this work of working for like CBS MoneyWatch, where overnight you stay up and watch as all these little numbers go through the screen, and then fortunes are determined on it, and you digest it. And then the whole thing is who has the best information. And then access to that information costs money. And if you don’t have a cool Bloomberg terminal, it’s available to you for an expensive price.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what the Bloomberg terminal is.

BOB HENNELLY: It gives you, at your terminal, the information that you can find nowhere else about the price of exotic instruments, that probably should be illegal because it’s speculation. It’s all that crazy mortgage-backed securities, all those things that financial institutions — the gambling, basically. It’s like a roulette wheel for rich people.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the city bought his machines?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, he had an agreement with them. And so, certainly, they have access to them. Like monthly payments, you know, you have. You subscribe.

AMY GOODMAN: They rent them. They lease them.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, you subscribe.

AMY GOODMAN: To do what?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, to be able to monitor. If you have a pension fund, for instance, you’ve got to monitor the value of these assets. What are the prices of commodities? What are the prices of gold?

AMY GOODMAN: So he was profiting while he was mayor?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, what he had was this structure where there were certain things that he had to recuse himself from. And he was also supposed to have arm’s-length dealings with Bloomberg LP while he was mayor. Also, during that time, it’s important to understand that he sponsored a lot of things at the same time. So there was the Bloomberg mayoralty, which is a highly produced thing in terms of events, and a parallel universe of Bloomberg philanthropy. So, at the same time, he was running these major philanthropic efforts. It’s also important for people to understand that when you get to the level of wealth, you actually need a certain amount of charity to build your wealth and maintain your net worth. So, when you see the money they’re giving, it is part of a wealth management strategy.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the same kind of conflicts of interests being levied against Bloomberg that we do — that we see with Trump?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, I think that he’s a classy billionaire. I don’t think we’ll have things like the Secret Service being charged exorbitant rates for night stays at Trump properties. But what does concern me is the lack of disclosure and the lack of humility, which really public service should require. More importantly, he has filed for an extension, past Super Tuesday, to file his Federal Election Commission disclosure forms, which are legally required. Now —

AMY GOODMAN: OK, explain that.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, yeah. So, one thing you have to do, Federal Election Commission requires every candidate who stands for office has to file this form. I went through Trump’s. I go through all the candidates when they get disclosed. And it’s a phone book giving you a sense of what they hold, where their investments are, what their profile is. It doesn’t give you the tax return, but it gives you a rough approximation. And so, what he’s done is decided that he’s going to — and he applied for an extension, I believe, too, past Super Tuesday. So, I mean, this is what’s crazy to me.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does he get an extension?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, because, I guess, it’s pro forma within the FEC. I mean, I’m surprised we still have one.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what won’t we know before the Super Tuesday primaries that we’ll know after?

BOB HENNELLY: Well, you’ll get an insight into the structure and the nature of his wealth, not the tax return. And here’s the thing. A lot of my liberal friends and people in the media business are like telling me not to report on this: “Back-channel this. It’s a bad idea. You’re going to blow up Michael Bloomberg. We’re going to need him because he’s only” — this is the stuff I’m hearing from other journalists, right? But here’s the issue, is that the question of transparency has to be paramount. And what it’s doing is, he’s able to once again — people just need to say to him, “If you’re going to transform America, and you’re going to do all this great stuff, and yet you need a time extension to get your basic forms in?” I mean, it just doesn’t make sense. And he needs to be challenged on it, in a way where I think — certainly, at least, he has to be held accountable to the fact that he’s lied twice now in a high-production-value debate about something as basic as filing and disclosing publicly his tax forms.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to that clip in the South Carolina presidential candidate debate.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I got into this race only 10 or 12 weeks ago. We’ve been working on our tax returns. I’ve said they’ll be out. We probably have another couple weeks left to go. We’re doing it as fast as we can. We’ve complied with every single requirement for disclosure. And when I was mayor of New York, we had our tax returns out 12 years in a row.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: No.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: And we will do that in the White House.

AMY GOODMAN: So, again, that’s where we started Part 1 of our discussion.

BOB HENNELLY: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to end Part 2 of our discussion with that.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain it more fully, because you’re making an explosive charge.

BOB HENNELLY: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying that the mayor is lying.

BOB HENNELLY: I will tell you that for several years during his tenure, it was my job at WNYC to go with other reporters to Geller & Co., his accountants on Third Avenue, where, annually, we would have a chance to look at what they were calling disclosure. And that would be a sheaf of papers roughly the size of a Midwestern city’s phone book — back in the day, if you remember phone books. And where there should be numbers, like you would have on your Turbo charge account or I would on my IRS forms, there were letters, A through G, and G representing, I guess, if I remember correctly, value over 500,000. So you’re looking at a document, Amy, with only Gs on it, a lot of Gs and no information. So that is point-blank not true. And I just — what’s disturbing is, about my colleagues, I was there with other reporters. This isn’t like something where I can tell you like “I was by myself, and it’s an intrepid story.” No, there were other reporters with me. Where are they now? They’re all around. So I think reporters, in general, who were part of this need to talk about this now and own the fact that they were part of a charade.

AMY GOODMAN: You felt — at that time you were working for WNYC — 

BOB HENNELLY: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: — the NPR station here in New York. How did the editors respond to what you were doing?

BOB HENNELLY: I had a very strong, great editor, Karen Frillmann. The general counsel, when we started looking at the Delaware corporations and the structure, just had a friendly request that all scripts be reviewed. And who doesn’t like to have your scripts on radio reviewed by the lawyers, right? I’m sure you’re fond of it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what you felt was a crackdown at that point.

BOB HENNELLY: Well, it was just basically we got into a rhetorical debate about the fact that I was even discussing Delaware LLCs, because they were — the lawyers for the station were saying I was inferring it was illegal. I’m just an anthropologist. It’s like Candy Land. I’m explaining to you how it works. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. It’s like a tool shed. Oh, here’s a hammer. Oh, here’s your Delaware LLC. And so, we fought to get it on. And the thing that I think saved the story was my editor had gumption — you always need them — but also Jeffrey Sachs speaking on the record and talking about global wealth —

AMY GOODMAN: The Columbia professor.

BOB HENNELLY: — and the fact that I had, as you know, the mayor on tape.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, and people can hear the mayor on tape in Part 1 of our discussion with Bob Hennelly, award-winning reporter, now with the public union newspaper The Chief-Leader. He covered Michael Bloomberg’s three terms as mayor of New York City. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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