By Leonard Greene, New York Daily News
Among the people who wished Nicholas Peart a happy birthday when he turned 18 was a cop who ordered him to the ground at gunpoint on a Manhattan street and pulled his wallet for an ID check.
Peart was sitting with two cousins on a bench in the median strip of Broadway near W. 96th St. on the Upper West Side, eating burgers and swapping stories when they were suddenly surrounded by squad cars.
After a few questions, the officers put their guns away, got back in their cars and drove off, but not before one of the cops looked at the date of birth on Peart’s driver’s license and snidely wished him a happy birthday.
The year was 2006. The mayor was Michael Bloomberg, the erstwhile presidential candidate, who says he’s sorry now.
Peart did not get the apology personally, and is not sure how much of a difference it would have made if he had.
But when he heard Bloomberg, champion of the city’s controversial stop and frisk strategy, get into the pulpit of a black megachurch in Brooklyn last week and say he was sorry for a divisive police policy that targeted black and Hispanic people for more than a decade, Peart was not in a forgiving mood.
“What epiphany could have happened between then and now,” said Peart, who sued the city over several unconstitutional stops. “I’m not comfortable with that.”
In the days since Bloomberg said, “I was wrong,” for pushing stop and frisk, Peart, 31, said he has heard reactions from elected leaders, community activists and civil liberties lawyers, everybody except the people who have actually been stopped and frisked.
What’s missing from the discussion, Peart said, is the ongoing impact the policy had on people like him.
The birthday stop wasn’t Peart’s first stop and frisk encounter. His scariest moment came in 2011 when he was stopped outside his Harlem apartment while he was on his way to the store. Two cops jumped out of an unmarked car and ordered him to put his hands up against a wall. Then they pulled his wallet and keys out of his pocket before asking him what building he had just left.
One of the officers asked which of the keys opened his apartment, where his 18-year-old sister was inside with two younger siblings. When the cop tried the key, his sister called him, but the police had his phone, and he couldn’t answer. Meanwhile, Peart was cuffed and searched and asked if he had marijuana. After a while, they explained that someone who fit his description was ringing doorbells in the building where he lived. They let him go.
The incident still haunts him.
“You don’t stop crime by stopping someone who has no intention of committing a crime,” Peart said. “Stopping someone on their way to work, on their way to school, on their way to the gym, that’s not stopping crime. You can’t stop someone for wearing a red hoodie. I can’t just be going to the supermarket?”
Peart shared his stories as part of the testimony he gave when he joined a federal lawsuit challenging the stop and frisk policy.
Even in 2013, after a federal judge ruled the tactic, as it was practiced, was unconstitutional, Bloomberg dug in and held his ground.
“This is a dangerous decision made by a judge who I think does not understand how policing works and what is compliant with the U.S. Constitution as determined by the Supreme Court,” Bloomberg said at the time. “I worry for my kids, and I worry for your kids. I worry for you and I worry for me. Crime can come back any time the criminals think they can get away with things. We just cannot let that happen.”
A year earlier, Milan Taylor, another stop and frisk victim, told Bloomberg he was wrong — to his face. Taylor a youth advocate, was at a Gracie Mansion meeting with Bloomberg and community leaders about crime prevention, and shared his own experiences about being stopped by police while jogging in Far Rockaway, Queens.
“That was a super traumatizing experience,” said Taylor, the president and founder of the Rockaway Youth Task Force. “That would not have happened if I was a white male jogging on the Upper West Side.”
But when Taylor, 29, related that story with Bloomberg and the crowd, Taylor said the billionaire mayor tried to relate with a story about one of his daughters being stopped by police while she was in a car with a major league baseball player.
“He said, ‘Everyone had experience with bad cops once in a while,’ ” Taylor recalled. “I was dumbfounded. How out of touch he was was really hurtful. It made me lose faith in government.”
In 2014 Taylor had a more substantial run-in with the law, pleading guilty to disorderly conduct after a woman accused him of assaulting her in his Rockaway office.
Bloomberg has yet to officially announce a presidential bid, but his testing of the waters has angered his stop and frisk critics.
And just because Bloomberg wants to take on President Trump who called for the policy to be used nationwide in 2016, and touted the tactic again last year, Bloomberg, they said, doesn’t get a free pass on his past.
“Absolutely not,” Taylor said. “He’s been out of office for seven years. Now that he’s running for president, he apologizes? It’s a little too late.”