By Karen Stokes
Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg visited Tulsa, Oklahoma on Sunday to unveil ‘The Greenwood Initiative’, his plan to close the racial wealth gap.
The policy is named in recognition of the city’s district of Greenwood, known as ‘Black Wall Street’, that was once one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States in the early part of the 20th century.
A mob of whites started a riot which began on May 31, 1921. The violence in Greenwood left 1,200 homes burned, dozens of shops looted and nothing but ruins and rubble across 35 blocks and hundreds of Black residents murdered.
“During and after the massacre, there were more than 6,000 arrests – of black residents. Not one white person ever went to jail,” said Bloomberg.
In just that short period, 1917 to 1923, more than 1,000 Black Americans were killed by white mobs in cities and towns across the country. But the truth is, what happened during that period was part of a continuum of violence that Black Americans faced, even after the end of slavery – violence that denied them their lives, their liberty, and their pursuit of happiness – the cornerstones of the American dream.
Speaking to an over-capacity crowd at the Greenwood Cultural Center, Bloomberg addressed the systematic racism which still stands in the way of economic equality for African American citizens.
“If there is one data point that begins to capture the enormity of the legacy that has been handed down to Black Americans, I think it is this: today, the typical Black family in America owns one-tenth the wealth of the typical white family,” the former New York mayor said.
He continued, “That really is a disgrace – but when you think about it from an economic perspective, the exploitation worked exactly as it was designed to do – slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow, segregation, and redlining.”
Well, it’s time to say enough – and too damn well do something about it, Bloomberg declared.
The Greenwood Initiative has three goals:
One: help a million more Black families buy a house, to counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis.
“We’ll require lenders to update their credit-scoring models because millions of Black households don’t have a credit score which is needed to get a mortgage – and that all has to end,” said Bloomberg. “We’ll reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to weaken fair lending laws. That has to end.”
Two: double the number of Black-owned businesses, which right now are far too few.
“One of the best ways to improve access to capital for Black Americans is to help community banks keep their doors open. Since 2001, the number of African-American community banks has declined by 50 percent. These banks traditionally were the cornerstone of community investment. We need to revive that tradition – and my administration will lead the way by increasing federal deposits in those banks,” said Bloomberg.
Three: help Black families triple their wealth over the next ten years to an all-time high.
“Our place-based strategy will invest $70 billion in 100 communities around the country. We’ll make those investments through a new neighborhood equity and opportunity office. That office will help communities develop revitalization plans and address the needs – everything from job training to transportation and infrastructure, to helping more people returning from prison find employment. These things work – Obama started it, Trump cancelled it, and we’ve got to bring it back,” Bloomberg said.
He added that these were not pie in the sky ideas that sound good but will never happen. They are concrete proposals that we can afford and that we can get done.
The campaign is seeking ideas and input from members of Congress, mayors, local officials, business leaders, ministers, academics, and community leaders.
Bloomberg is also exploring a reparations bill from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
“I will support her bill to create a commission to examine the issue of reparations,” Bloomberg said. “There is no reason not to study possible remedies – but we also can’t wait for the results.”
As a late entry into the Democratic presidential campaign field, Bloomberg is counting on making up ground in the Super Tuesday democratic primaries on March 3.
The Achilles’ heel facing his campaign is the Stop and Frisk policing program that led to the stopping of a majority black and Latino people across New York City. He expressed regret on Sunday during the speech.
“Now, as all of you know, in my determination to reduce gun violence, we employed a common big-city police practice called stop and frisk, and that resulted in far too many innocent people being stopped,” he said.
“When I realized that, we took action. And by the time I left office, we had finally cut stops by 95 percent,” Bloomberg continued. “But as I have said, I was wrong not to act faster and sooner to cut the stops, and I’ve apologized to New Yorkers for that, and for not better understanding the impact it was having on Black and Latino communities.”
Bloomberg added, “I’ve always believed, though, that leadership involves listening to diverse opinions, and acknowledging when you didn’t get them right, and learning from it. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
“But I believe that this is a country where anything is possible. And I believe that we have the power to build a future where color and capital are no longer related. That is the future I want to leave my grandchildren – and that is the future that I will work for and build as president,” he said.