William C. Thompson Jr. is the only black candidate in the New York City mayoral race. He has never spoken out explicitly against Gotham City's controversial stop-and-frisk policy. But in a New York Times article, Thompson not only came out against stop and frisk but also drew a correlation between the policy and George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin, for which Zimmerman was recently found not guilty.
Mr. Thompson arrived before a mostly black congregation in a storefront church and issued a fierce denunciation of the policies of the New York Police Department, saying they are drawn from the same racial suspicions that drove George Zimmerman to hunt down Trayvon Martin.
"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 frisk them because of the color of their skin," Mr. Thompson said at the Abundant Life Church in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn.
Thompson, much like Obama, has largely avoided playing up his race or issues related to race, even though, if he won the race, he would be only the second black mayor in the city's history.
Advisers to Mr. Thompson have suggested that voters in minority neighborhoods may make up their minds late in a campaign, and, in the final stretch of the race, he will make a major push to secure their embrace.
When Mr. Thompson first took the plexiglass lectern at the squat church filled with folding chairs shortly after 11 a.m., he acknowledged that delving into the sensitive subject of race was "not my first or natural instinct." But he proceeded to put forth the most assertive address of the campaign on the polarizing issue of stop and frisk, a tactic heralded by the city’s police as a lifesaving deterrent and assailed by a generation of black and Latino men as overused and abusive.
Of what Mr. Thompson said were the 600,000 blacks and Latinos stopped by the New York police in 2011, a vast majority were innocent, he said — "profiled as Trayvon was profiled."
"If our government profiles people because of skin color and treats them as potential criminals, how can we expect citizens to do any less?" Mr. Thompson asked, as church members loudly applauded and occasionally interrupted with cries of "amen."
As was the case with President Obama — who made a passionate, personal speech on race relations in America after the Zimmerman verdict was handed down — Thompson expressed his concerns over stop and frisk from a humane perspective.
For black voters unsettled by the Bloomberg era of law enforcement, Mr. Thompson occupies an intriguing place in the campaign. He has defended elements of the stop-and-frisk policy as effective and stops short of the call to abolish it advocated by a Democratic rival, John C. Liu, the city comptroller, positions that have earned Mr. Thompson the support of major police unions.
But he has made clear he would replace the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, overhaul the stop-and-frisk strategy to ban racial profiling, and limit reliance on the practice by hiring 2,000 more officers and putting more experienced ones in high-crime areas.
On Sunday, though, he talked about the issues in human terms, as a father and a husband. Mr. Thompson, the son of a Democratic judge in State Supreme Court and a schoolteacher, acknowledged that his biography did not put him in the same shoes as many black and Latino men across the city.
"I am the son of the struggle before me," he said. "And although it has not ended, I have lived in the blessing of its success so far."
But, invoking the "dreams of our fathers" and "dreams for our sons," he said he felt compelled to speak out after the acquittal of Mr. Zimmerman. "When the rules of society — that we call and honor as the law — allow even one of those dreams to be snuffed out in anger and fear without consequence or action, those rules fail us all," he said.
Read more at the New York Times.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.