Florida Is Using $1 Billion In Fines To Disenfranchise Former Offenders And Michael Bloomberg Should Pay In Full
Erasing the debts would be a first step toward atoning for stop and frisk, and good politics too.
September 16, 2020 at 9:31 pm
Michael Bloomberg's previous stop-and-frisk policies cemented his place as one of the many Antichrists of social justice. While he appears to be atoning for his past, he needs to keep going.
The Associated Press reports the former New York City mayor has helped raise over $20 million to restore voting rights for over 30,000 Floridians. As Blavity previously reported, the fundraising campaign comes after a federal court of appeals recently upheld a controversial 2019 Florida law that withholds voting rights from Floridians with prior felony convictions until they've paid off all associated restitution, fines and court fees. The requirement disproportionately impacts Black Floridians and has been called racist and the equivalent of a new poll tax.
The announcement also comes as Bloomberg pledged to spend $100 million of his own money to help former Vice President Joe Biden win Florida in the November election. Bloomberg made the decision after his own news agency reported that his friend turned foe, rival New York billionaire Donald Trump, may spend up to $100 million of his own money for his reelection campaign. In response, Bloomberg decided to be that auntie who hosts her own family dinner at the same time as Big Momma, matching the president's dollar amount and targeting it toward Florida, a key swing state that Trump also adopted as his place of residency last year.
Both of the announcements by Bloomberg have been power moves, for sure, but they are far less than what Bloomberg can do with his $50 billion fortune. Bloomberg can, and should, personally pay off all the felony-related debts across the state of Florida. This would be the bold move that would benefit his political goals. It might even allow him to rewrite his legacy and overcome the stain of stop-and-frisk.
No, we haven't forgotten that Michael Bloomberg once presided over a system of racial injustice as widespread as the one he is now opposing in Florida. As Mayor of New York City, Bloomberg ramped up the policy of having police arbitrarily search mostly Black and Latino New Yorkers. The stop-and-frisk has been the defining policy of his political career.
Police made millions of these stops under Bloomberg's watch. Ninety percent of those harassed by NYPD through stop-and-frisk were innocent. Research indicates that these searches created thousands of additional incidents in which police used physical force and even deadly violence against Black civilians. The searches also created situations where police searches amounted to sexual assaults against civilians of color. The policy created a generation of Black and brown New Yorkers who grew up with the constant fear of being targeted by the police.
Stop-and-frisk was eventually deemed racist and unconstitutional in a 2013 court ruling. But Bloomberg continued to defend the targeting and harassing of innocent young people of color for years. It wasn't until he started running for president that Bloomberg suddenly began apologizing for the policy . We didn't believe him.
Michael Bloomberg has to do a lot more than apologize to get away from the legacy of stop-and-frisk. If he truly wants to show that he's come to a new way of thinking about institutionalized racial injustice in law enforcement, then personally tackling a current problem such as racially biased disenfranchisement in Florida is a good way to demonstrate that.
Celebrities such as Michael Jordan and Lebron James and companies such as the MTV, VH1 and Comedy Central cable networks have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay off debts in Florida. But even the new $20 million announcement is far less than the estimated $1 billion to $3 billion needed for full re-enfranchisement in Florida. Michael Bloomberg can easily pay that amount. Over the past year alone, he spent about $1 billion on his own failed presidential campaign. Fortunately for him, he's made about $12 billion since dropping out of the race in March (the pandemic's been good for billionaires).
Beyond helping to repair Bloomberg's legacy, paying off these debts is also good politics. Bloomberg's latest moves in Florida have been aimed towards winning the 2020 election for the Democrats. Bloomberg’s $100 million contribution will mostly go towards both English and Spanish-language political advertising. This will benefit Biden, who has experienced a double-digit drop in Latino support compared to Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance in Florida. Meanwhile, Black people remain Biden's most reliable voting bloc in the state, and the $20 million Bloomberg helped raise has specifically gone to Black and Latino Floridians.
Contributing an extra billion or so to re-enfranchise Floridians will also help Bloomberg in his personal rivalry with Donald Trump. It will show that he can and will outspend Trump. It could even help shame Judge Barbara Lagoa, who is currently on President Trump's shortlist to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Lagoa cast the decisive vote in the ruling that upheld the 2019 Florida law. She also supports actual poll taxes because apparently the constitution no longer matters. A grand gesture by Bloomberg to neutralize Florida’s de facto poll tax would help highlight Lagoa’s extreme views and shine a spotlight on how Trump, Lagoa and others within the Republican Party have made voter suppression a key part of their political strategy.
To return to the main point, though, Mayor Bloomberg has been unable to escape the legacy of stop-and-frisk. His apologies have seemed calculated . If he really regrets inflicting a severely racist policy upon thousands of Black and brown people in New York, he can show it by ending another such injustice in Florida. Achieving his own political goals in the process would be icing on the cake.
Words are cheap. Jay-Z once said, "pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoed us. We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo' bucks." Bloomberg has a lot of bucks. Florida is a good place for him to keep talking.