NEW YORK — The Rev. Calvin Butts III, the influential pastor of the historic Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, is drawing strong criticism from some members of his church for throwing his support behind billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, who is currently under fire for his controversial support of stop-and-frisk policies that targeted mainly black and Hispanic residents.
The criticism has come in the wake of the revelation of audio, reportedly from a 2015 speech in Colorado, in which Bloomberg claims that “95%” of “murders and murderers and murder victims” are male minorities between the ages of 16 to 25 and the way to reduce violence in the city is to throw minority kids “up against the walls and frisk them.”
“You can just take the descriptions and Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops,” Bloomberg can be heard saying on the audio.
In a Politico report, Butts described how he and a group of about 20 black pastors met with Bloomberg at the billionaire’s Times Square headquarters to discuss the issue. He said Bloomberg apologized and Butts accepted the apology for his stop-and-frisk record because he has spent his money on causes that are important to black New Yorkers.
“We accept your apology at one level, but we want to let you know that we’ll be looking for more concrete expressions of your apology in terms of the African American community,” Butts said, describing the line of questioning from a different clergy member in attendance.
He said Bloomberg was quiet in the meeting and facilitated a “genuine” exchange that was “not hostile.” He “accepted what was being said to him.”
Butts also recalled how Bloomberg offered his economic development operation a sizable donation, a reported $1 million, timed to the bicentennial of his Abyssinian Baptist Church.
“He used his money, which is one of the reasons I continue to support him, to express his sincerity,” Butts said.
Jerome Jackson, a 63-year-old Harlem resident and congregant at Abyssinian, told Gothamist that he doesn’t believe most of the church’s congregants would support their pastor’s endorsement of Bloomberg.