Young Men's Initiative: The White Mayor's Burden

Bloomberg aims to help the young black and Latino men he has been throwing in jail for a decade

Instead, Washington says, Bloomberg did "more to fight against blacks obtaining this job than anyone else." He fought the Vulcan's effort to lower the exam fee and resisted their demand that the city advertise the job on the radio. (He lost on both counts.) He has even been at odds with diversification efforts publicly supported by his own FDNY commissioner, Sal Cassano.

"Far too many of our young men are not fully sharing in the promise of the American Dream," Mayor Bloomberg said when he announced the Young Men's Initiative. Washington describes a job with the FDNY as a ladder to that dream by saying, "As soon as you get sworn in, you're middle class for life.

"He'd have done a lot more good in just not keeping blacks from getting this great job than he can do in helping us to get other jobs in this so-called 'initiative,'" Washington says.

Plus, he adds, "When the mayor is so happy to give felony convictions through these stop-and-frisks, your chances of getting this job are even slimmer."

If you're not yet too woozy from the vicarious elation off whatever's in the mayor's pipe, let's take a closer look at that stop-and-frisk policy.

Put aside for a moment the constitutionality of stopping more than a half million innocent people a year and take for granted (as most New Yorkers of all hues do) that stop-and-frisk is a given. Shouldn't black and brown citizens have to pay the price if they're caught breaking the law by the police, just like anyone else?

The problem is that, statistically speaking, under Mayor Bloomberg, it's only black and Latino men who are being stopped and frisked. Wielded so disproportionately, stop-and-frisk has become a kind of assault he uses against them. Not examining this in his desire to "help" these men is as crazy as if the governor of Iowa wanted to wage war on obesity without examining the role of high-fructose corn syrup.

Now, let's accept that a criminal conviction—any conviction—makes it far less likely that you'll get hired as a New York City firefighter, a city clerk, or in any job in the private sector. Even the Young Men's Initiative bluntly acknowledges this.

What it doesn't admit is that for the city's black and brown young men, stop-and-frisk is often the first step on the road to a first conviction.

According to the NYCLU, stop-and-frisks result in no arrest nearly 90 percent of the time. But the raw numbers are so high, and the percentage is so asymmetrically black and Latino, that you still end up with more than 50,000 drug arrests a year of young brown and black men.

In terms of carrying narcotics on their person, it's not like white guys wouldn't face a similar fate if they were subjected to stop-and-frisks.

"Marijuana along racial lines is pretty even," says Sayegh. "However, under 30, white men smoke at higher rates. That's not our numbers, that's the government numbers," he says, citing a report from the Department of Health and Human Services.

When it comes to concealing contraband overall (including illegal guns, a cause close to the mayor's heart), white people are slightly guiltier. As a report from the Center for Constitutional Rights points out, "The rate of contraband yield from stops made by the NYPD have stayed level and at a minuscule percentage across racial groups." Of all New Yorkers stopped, 1.8 percent had illegal guns in 2005, 1.4 percent in 2006, and 2 percent in 2007 and the first half of 2008.

However, the report goes on: "While the percentages are low throughout racial groups, Whites demonstrate slightly higher rates of contraband yield. In 2005, 2.3 percent of Whites stopped resulted in a contraband yield compared to 1.8 percent for Latinos and Blacks; in 2006, the percentage for Whites was 1.9 percent compared to 1.4 percent for Latinos and Blacks; in 2007, the percentage for Whites was 2.4 percent versus 1.9 percent for Latinos and Blacks; and, in the first half of 2008 the percentage for Whites was 2.1 percent versus 1.8 percent for Latinos and Blacks."

Bloomberg is a numbers guy, and he says he wants to help black and Latino young men. So, shouldn't he start by simply policing darker-skinned male citizens as "hard" as he does white ones (who actually seem, by his own data, to be breaking the law at a higher rate)?

Let's look at drug arrests in Bloomberg's neighborhood. The 19th Precinct, where Bloomberg lives, has the lowest marijuana arrests in the city, Sayegh says. "We think the Upper East Side has an excellent marijuana arrest policy," he continues, namely that if "the whole city had the same policy that the mayor's precinct has, it would be great. Maybe there would still be abuses, but what's happening in all likelihood [is that] the people that are getting arrested up there probably are smoking weed in public. Because there's, like, 19 of them."

"It's white folks who tend to smoke marijuana within the community anywhere they are," Sayegh adds. It's a completely different story for young black and brown men, he maintains, because they think, 'I'm certainly not going to smoke weed in public because I'm being watched constantly.'"

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