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How Trayvon Martin case could tip New York mayor's race

William Thompson gave a fiery speech Sunday, invoking Trayvon Martin in criticizing a controversial New York police policy. Thompson is hoping to woo black voters who backed Anthony Weiner.

By Staff writer / July 29, 2013

New York Democratic mayoral candidate William Thompson speaks to the media at a labor rally in New York last week.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

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New York

Seizing on the implosion of former congressman Anthony Weiner's campaign, mayoral hopeful William Thompson delivered a surprising and full-throated denunciation of New York’s “stop and frisk” crimefighting tactic Sunday, linking the polarizing police practice to the same kind of racial profiling that he said led George Zimmerman to shoot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

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Mr. Thompson’s impassioned public statement, delivered to a mostly black congregation at the Abundant Life Church in the Brooklyn borough of New York, was unusual for the cautious politician, who has previously taken more moderate stances on stop and frisk, a policy that allows city police to frisk people they think might be involved in serious crimes. Leaders of the city's black community, meanwhile, have been outspoken critics. 

In general, Thompson has avoided the heated topics of race, and that could partly explain his comparatively tepid support among black voters so far – a constituency Thompson needs in the upcoming Democratic primary. But Mr. Weiner's troubles come as an opportunity for Thompson. Black voters had been the strongest supporters of Weiner, and the main reason the former congressman had surged to the top of the polls before last week’s reignited sexting scandal.

One reason for Weiner’s popularity among black voters, many have pointed out, was his outspoken criticism of stop and frisk, a policy Thompson has said he would continue, with modifications, if he were elected mayor. On Sunday, however, the former New York City comptroller, who is black, dialed up his rhetoric considerably.

“How did the system fail?” Thompson said. “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. Six hundred thousand of them in 2011 – more than 90 percent innocent – are profiled as Trayvon was profiled.”

So far, the responses to Thompson’s bold foray have been exactly what the candidate must have hoped. The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network in New York and a critic of Thompson’s views on stop and frisk, said the candidate’s statement was finally “on point.”

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