New York City mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, delivering a major speech on race relations for the first time in his campaign, Sunday said he found parallels between George Zimmerman's alleged profiling of Trayvon Martin and the NYPD's controversial stop-and-frisk practice.
"Here in New York City, we have institutionalized Mr. Zimmerman's suspicion with a policy that all but requires our police officers to treat young black and Latino men with suspicion, to stop them and to frisk them because of the color of their skin," Thompson, a Democrat, said.
Thompson, the only black candidate, spoke to an audience of about 60 at a Prospect Heights church headed by Assemb. Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn).
Thompson acknowledged that discussing race is a rarity for him. "It is not my first or natural instinct to talk about race in the context of politics," he said. But he later said President Barack Obama's recent personal speech after Zimmerman's acquittal of murder charges in Martin's shooting death inspired him to craft his own.
The speech was his strongest condemnation yet of stop-and-frisk. He has said he believes the practice should be reformed, but has opposed City Council bills to install an inspector general to oversee the NYPD and make it easier for people to file bias lawsuits against police.
Thompson acknowledged that he has faced criticism for a statement he made after the Zimmerman verdict was read, saying Zimmerman trailed Martin because he was young and black, but he reiterated it yesterday: "Trayvon Martin did die because he was black. Of that there is no doubt."
A churchgoer who listened to Thompson's speech said she was surprised by it.
"It was very fair, very honest and very bold for a politician to talk about race," said Dorothea Davis, 45, of East Flatbush. She said she was especially struck when Thompson, quoting The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said "silence is betrayal" and said the time had come to speak out on race.
"He uncovered what many people are thinking but are afraid to speak out loud," Davis said.
Karen Khan, 52, also of East Flatbush, said political speeches about race can go a long way toward encouraging "a conversation and a dialogue in this country."
Both women said they were leaning toward Thompson but wanted to learn more about him.
A Quinnipiac Poll last week found Thompson leading in support from black Democrats likely to vote in the election. He has 35 percent to runner-up Anthony Weiner's 31 percent. Thompson Sunday said he puts little stock in polling.