One of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s finest moments, at least until his recent all-out advocacy for gun control, was when he choked up during a moving speech defending the development of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque in 2010. Remember that? Republicans were making it a big campaign issue, even President Obama took his time before kinda-sorta defending it, but Bloomberg made a big speech in front of the Statue of Liberty and defended the fundamental American right of New York Muslims to build a community center where they wanted it.
This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.
Of course, Bloomberg has been going both ways on religious tolerance and civil liberties for a while now – also tolerating Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s draconian surveillance and harassment of local Muslims. So I shouldn’t have been shocked when Bloomberg lost it Tuesday over mounting criticism of Kelly’s “stop and frisk” policies, which disproportionately target young African-American men. Shamefully, he equated the NYCLU with the NRA – it’s not the first time he’s done that – and even got in a little race-baiting against the New York Times.
While the Times has editorialized against stop-and-frisk, Bloomberg claimed the paper didn’t cover the murder of Alphonza Bryant, a 17-year-old African-American, in the Bronx last week. "I loathe that a 17-year-old can be senselessly murdered in the Bronx, and the media doesn't cover it," Bloomberg ranted. "Do you think if a white 17-year-old prep student from Manhattan was murdered, the Times would have ignored it? I think not."
Nice. Mayor Stop and Frisk is the real friend of African-Americans, unlike those white elitists at the New York Times.
In fact, the Times did cover the Bryant murder, in a Joe Nocera roundup of gun violence April 25. Bloomberg spokesman Howard Wolfson claims that shouldn’t count because Nocera just linked to New York Daily News stories on the killing. Glad Wolfson is now the Times ombudsman; somebody tell Margaret Sullivan she's out of a job.
I asked the Times for comment but didn't hear until after this post went up. The New York Times's Danielle Rhodes-Ha just emailed: “Mayor Bloomberg is trying to deflect criticism of the City’s stop-and-frisk practice by accusing The New York Times of bias. Among those critical of the practice is The New York Times editorial board, which is separate from the news side of the newspaper. The Times aggressively covers violence in the city's neighborhoods, and to select one murder as evidence to the contrary is disingenuous. His claim of racial bias is absurd.”
Bloomberg also criticized demands for an inspector general to oversee NYPD counterterror policy in the wake of mounting criticism of Kelly’s Muslim profiling. "God forbid terrorists succeed in striking our city because of a politically driven law that undermines the NYPD's intelligence-gathering efforts," he said.
Sadly, the normally stoic mayor has been indulging Ray Kelly’s fervid fantasies about the Tsarnaev brothers’ supposed plans to target Times Square after Boston – based on some hospital bed information from Dzohkhar, the surviving stoner suspect. The notion that these knockoff jihadis waited four days after their Boston attack to head for Manhattan to mount a terror plot, with no money and no gas, at the very moment their faces had been released to the world (they were almost immediately identified), seems ludicrous to me. It sounds like it could have been Tsarnaev’s pain meds talking.
Interestingly, just a day before, Kelly and Bloomberg had been mocking the brothers’ supposed plans to “party” in New York, and boasting about the city’s capacity to deter attacks like the Boston bombing. But suddenly it seemed politically useful to cower at the thought of the wrong-way Tsarnaevs targeting Bloomberg and Kelly’s supposedly well-defended city. “The fact that New York City was next on the terrorists' list ... shows just how crucial it is for the NYPD to continue to expand its counterterrorism capabilities and intelligence gathering capabilities," Bloomberg intoned. Kelly took shots at the FBI for failing to immediately notify him of the “danger,” but it’s worth noting that the FBI has itself criticized Kelly’s aggressive Muslim surveillance, suggesting in at least one case that it bordered on entrapment.
Just as Bloomberg tries to have it both ways on religious tolerance toward Muslims, he’s also having it both ways on how well he and Kelly are protecting the city against supposedly lethal Islamic extremism. The guy who once made a stirring stand on civil liberties shames himself by comparing the NYCLU to the NRA. But we’ll give the NYCLU the last word. Here’s what it posted today: