Former city comptroller and current mayoral candidate William Thompson is a reasonable person with a solid record. On the campaign trail, he has avoided egregious demagoguery—unlike, say, his rival John Liu—and has played down his role as the sole African-American in the multi-candidate mayoral race.
So after Mr. Thompson delivered a stinging condemnation of the Police Department the other day, attention must be paid. Speaking at a predominately black church in Brooklyn, Mr. Thompson lashed out at the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy and suggested that the department’s higher-ups have “institutionalized” the sort of profiling that led to Trayvon Martin’s death in Florida.
Unlike Mr. Liu and others, Mr. Thompson has never demanded an end to stop and frisk, although he has been critical of the policy. His reasonable position on the issue has been ratified by the likes of former Mayor David Dinkins and Congressman Charles Rangel, who recently asked, “Do you want people carrying guns in your community illegally that could do bodily harm? The answer is: hell, no!”
These prominent African-American leaders know that stop and frisk has helped reduce the city’s murder rate to historic lows, which means that it has saved the lives of hundreds of black and Latino New Yorkers who live in high-crime areas.
That makes Mr. Thompson’s apparent change of heart—and his charged language—all the more disconcerting. He insisted that black and Latino New Yorkers are being “profiled as Trayvon was profiled.”
“If our government profiles people because of skin color and treats them as potential criminals, how can we expect citizens to do any less?” Mr. Thompson asked. That line of argument comes perilously close to blaming Martin’s death on the NYPD—and that’s not an argument any would-be mayor ought to be making.
It’s possible that Mr. Thompson is simply trying to rally his supporters as we head into the final full month of the primary campaign. It’s possible that he took to heart the criticism of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who insisted that it was not “wise” of Mr. Thompson to defend any aspect of stop and frisk because, the reverend argued, “it is a policy that is based on racial profiling.”
Mr. Sharpton specializes in incendiary language. Mr. Thompson does not. Hopefully Mr. Thompson will revert to form when stop and frisk comes up for discussion in the coming weeks.