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Mike Bloomberg Speaks at Christian Cultural Center

The following remarks were delivered on November 17, 2019 at Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, NY

“Thank you everyone, and good morning. It is great to be with all of you.

“As the Reverend said, I have spent many Sunday mornings here at CCC back when I was mayor. In fact – I never told my mother this – but over the years, I think I’ve spent more time in church than I have in temple.

“One of the best things about being mayor was having the chance to experience the city’s spectacular diversity: every faith and every philosophy, every neighborhood, every culture, and every type of food. I think I actually put on ten pounds during my campaigns.

“Actually, I loved every minute of it. And I worked morning, noon, and night to repay the public trust that they put in me.

“I think you know, I took that trust very seriously. And one of the first things I did after being elected Mayor was to reach out to faith leaders, particularly Reverend A. R. Bernard, who always gave me good advice. One time he told me, for example: ‘Mike, ban smoking in bars and restaurants – nobody will mind!’

“But seriously, I’ve always believed that any mayor’s most important responsibility is protecting people’s health – and protecting them from violence and danger. That’s why stopping gun violence has been one of the fights of my life. And this morning, I’d like to talk briefly about what I’ve learned along the way.

“Now, when I first came into office back on January 1st of 2002, a lot of people thought that gun violence in New York City had gone as low as it could go. But there were still 650 people being murdered every year back in 2001. Most of them were young, black and Latino men. I was not going to accept that – and I didn’t.

“At the same time, when I came into office, the relationship between the black community and the police was not good. And I was not going to accept that, either.

“I was determined to improve police-community relations while at the same time reducing crime even further. And – for a good long while – we did both, I’m happy to say.

“In fact, no other city in America did what we did – we reduced murders by 50 percent, reduced police shootings to historic lows, and reduced the number of people incarcerated by nearly 40 percent. We proved a city could do all of these three things – at once.

“If the skeptics had been right that crime was really at rock bottom, and if murders stayed at that same level and we had done nothing, then some 1,600 more people would have been killed while we were in office – and most of them would have been young people, with lives so full of promise, from black and Latino communities.

“So saving lives and taking illegal guns off the street, we came at the problem from every conceivable angle. We worked closely with community leaders, particularly Reverend Bernard. We reformed the juvenile justice system to help young people who made bad decisions get their lives back on track. And we created a program called the Young Men’s Initiative – to help at-risk black and Latino youth overcome the odds and succeed. It was the first program of its kind in the nation, and I’m happy to say President Obama built on its success by creating a similar program called My Brother’s Keeper.

“At the same time, I took the fight directly to the NRA. I helped organize a coalition of more than 1,000 Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and we went after the most irresponsible gun dealers across the country.

“Now, I didn’t come here this morning to toot our own horn because we didn’t get everything right. We did make mistakes – I made mistakes. I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t made a mistake. The critical issue is whether you can admit it.

“Well, I think I can. And whenever something went wrong, I took responsibility – including if an innocent New Yorker was killed by police. In those rare but awful cases, I made a point of meeting with the family, I apologized, we held police officers accountable, and we worked to make sure that it never happened again.

“That approach helped rebuild a sense of mutual respect – and trust. And so did our commitment to hiring a more diverse police force – which meant that racial and ethnic minorities became the majority of all patrol officers, because I believe that police departments should look like the cities that they serve.

“After eight years in office, studies confirmed what was clear to me: black New Yorkers strongly supported the job the police department was doing. That was a real point of pride for me.

“But by my final year in office, support for the department had eroded. And the main reason was the practice of something called stop and frisk.

“Our focus was on saving lives. The fact is, far too many innocent people were being stopped while we tried to do that. The overwhelming majority of them were black and Latino. That may have included, I’m sorry to say, some of you here today. Perhaps yourself or your children, or your grandchildren, or your neighbors, or your relatives.

“I spoke with many of the innocent people affected, and listened to their frustrations and their anger. And as I said at the time, I’d be angry, too.

“So in 2012, in my third term, we began putting more safeguards in place, and we began scaling back the number of stops. As we did that, we noticed something important: crime did not go back up.

“So we began scaling the stops back faster – and further. And by the time I left office, we had cut stops by 94 percent.

“But because the number of stops of innocent people had been so high, resentment had built up, and we eroded what we had worked so hard to build: trust. Trust between police and communities. Trust between you and me.

“The erosion of trust bothered me – deeply. And it still bothers me. And I want to earn it back.

“After you leave office, you have a chance to reflect on what you did well, and what you could’ve done better. A lot of people tell you what you could’ve done better.

“Well, in recent months, as I’ve thought about my future, I’ve been thinking more about my past – and coming to terms with where I came up short. I talked about the issue of stops with people I know and respect from different communities: friends, civic leaders, educators, and staff members.

“I’ve always believed that leadership involves listening and reading and respecting diverse viewpoints, and acknowledging when you didn’t get them right. Over time, I’ve come to understand something that I long struggled to admit to myself: I got something important wrong.

“I got something important really wrong.

“I didn’t understand that back then, the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives – but as we know: good intentions aren’t good enough.

“Now, hindsight is 20-20. But as crime continued to come down as we reduced stops – and as it continued to come down during the next administration, to its credit – I now see that we could and should have acted sooner, and acted faster, to cut the stops.

“I wish we had – and I’m sorry that we didn’t.

“But I can’t change history. However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong – and I am sorry.

“But I also want you to know that I am more committed than ever to ending gun violence, and to do it in equal partnership with the communities that are affected the most.

“I’m glad to say that the organization I helped create after leaving City Hall – Everytown for Gun Safety – has now some six million supporters. And in last year’s congressional elections, I supported candidates across the country who took strong positions on gun safety – and nearly all of them won. That allowed the Democrats to retake the House – and put gun safety back on the agenda, where it belongs.

“Now, I’ve never expected everyone to agree with me on every issue. Not even my mother agreed with me on every issue. But the causes that I am most passionate about – not just gun violence, but also education and public health and economic opportunity for all families – they’re all about righting wrongs that have fallen heaviest on poor and minority communities.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I promise you this: I will never stop working to end gun violence – to make every community across America safer and stronger, and to create a more just and equal society, for everyone.

“Thank you, God bless CCC, and God bless all of you.”

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