(MintPress) — New York City’s campaign against sugary drinks hit a snag recently when allegations of economic racism surfaced. The New York State Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Hispanic Federation have filed a joint brief complaining that the ban — which would make it a fineable offense in the city of New York to sell a sugar-based drink that measures over sixteen fluid ounces — unfairly discriminates against minority-owned small businesses.
The ban, which is due to go into effect March 12, would force food service establishments (FSE) to limit the size availability of soda, sweetened juices and any other beverage that has sugar as a principal ingredient. Violations of the ordinance can face up to $200 in assessed fines per sale. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene would be charged with the enforcement of this law.
This law is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wide-sweeping campaign to fight obesity in New York City. From 2003 to 2007, the prevalence of obesity in New York City swelled from 20 percent to 22 percent, according to the New York State Department of Health. Statewide, 60 percent of all New York adults were overweight or obese as of 2008. In a 2003 survey, 24 percent of New York City’s kindergarten through fifth grade students were obese. New York State is second only to Wyoming in total adult obesity related medical expenditures.
Bloomberg has introduced a suite of health-minded ordinances during his administration, such as a trans-fat ban in the city’s restaurants, bans on smoking in public parks and beaches, requiring the city’s schools to introduce a low-calorie salad bar, limiting alcohol advertising near schools and engaging in initiatives to decrease the city’s salt intake.
Fighting obesity the unfair way
Grocery stores and most convenience stores are exempt from this prohibition, as they are licensed through the state and not the city. This creates an uneven playing field, according to critics of the ordinance. Most of the businesses that would be affected by the law would be small, primarily minority-owned businesses — such as cafes, restaurants and bodegas — because larger businesses, such as 7-Eleven and Whole Foods, would be exempt. Critics of the policy consider this to be patently unfair.
Hazel N. Dukes, president of the New York State Chapter of the NAACP states: “If you are just going at certain parts, which is mom and pop stores and bodegas, you are hurting them economically,” Dukes said of the regulation. “I’ve lost family members, my father died from obesity, so no one has to tell us about obesity. When I walk in the store, the first thing I see is a shelf of sodas in the grocery store.”
7-Eleven — its “Big Gulp” comes in sizes no smaller than 22 fluid ounces — and supermarkets — where soda is the best-selling product — would be free to continue selling larger-than-16-ounce drinks after the March implementation of the law.
Bloomberg, during an episode of WOR’s “Live from City Hall with Mayor Mike and John Gambling” radio show, criticized the NAACP’s opposition: “[T]he kids who are most obese and [for whom] a cup size limitation would do the most good, tend to be in poor neighborhoods, which in New York tends to be minority neighborhoods.”
Obesity tends to be a greater problem in low-income neighborhoods, where affordable, healthy foods may be harder to come by and where physical exercise options are limited. These “food deserts,” based on city data, tend to be more likely to have obese residents in deep poverty than any other area. Data from NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggest that, in 2010, African-Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be obese than other ethnicities.
“In all fairness it’s the local chapter, it’s not the national,” Bloomberg continued, “but for them to do this is just such an outright disgrace. How [can they] look themselves in the mirror knowing they are hurting deliberately the life expectancy and the quality of life for the people they are supposed to serve?”
“We are not encouraging anyone to drink sugary drinks,” Dukes said, in response to the mayor’s comments. “But you can’t tell me that you’re only telling mom and pop stores, and you’re only telling bodegas, you’re not telling 7-11, you’re not telling McDonald’s, you’re not telling the chains what they can sell.”
McDonald’s, as a food service establishment, would be subject to the ban.
Jean Weinberg, press secretary to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told online daily theGrio: “This rule is designed to benefit all New Yorkers. A primary focus of the Health Department is to help the most vulnerable New Yorkers stay healthy. The city’s poor and minority residents are far more likely to be obese, have diabetes and suffer from the many other health consequences of obesity. African-Americans, who suffer most, have a life expectancy at birth that is four years shorter than that of whites.”
The ethics of Machiavellian governance
The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli argued that — with political entities — the morality of an action can only be judged in consideration of its ultimate consequence. Sometimes referred as consequentialism, the argument suggests that a seemingly negative action done toward a positive goal is justifiable — if not partially beneficial and positive upon reflection in the establishment of the precedent that led to the sought goal. Such thinking is known as teleological ethics.
There is evidence to suggest that Mayor Bloomberg is using teleological or Machiavellian ethics to justify his policies. A political pragmatist, Bloomberg has always sought to use a result-based, statistical approach to governance, similar to the model he used in the management of his businesses. While the sugary drink ban is not necessarily harmful, these “ends justify the means” schools of thinking have been seen in other policies from the mayor’s office.
During his first term, he used this philosophy to great success to reform the city’s schools.
Prior to his 2002 intervention, the city had marginal control of the schools — a compact between the city and the state gave the state majority control of the city’s Board of Education, with the remainder of authority being partitioned between 25 local school boards. One of Bloomberg’s first actions was to discard the old system and replace it with a mayoral office, the Department of Education. Under mayoral control, graduation rates and test scores rose, the city received a greater share of state educational funding and social promotion was banned — after-school and summer-school programs were favored instead of promoting an unprepared student to a new grade level. A productivity measure was also introduced to and accepted by the teachers’ union.
Using the same “results matter first” approach that served him well with the education fight, Bloomberg took on the matter of public safety. In 2006, Bloomberg authorized the hiring of private investigators to illegally purchase handguns for third parties. Those that were caught selling guns in this manner were blackmailed with civil charges unless they submitted to extensive monitoring from the city’s representatives.
Since he took office in 2001, Bloomberg has authorized the New York Police Department (NYPD) to utilize the state-authorized practice of Terry stops — known colloquially as “stop & frisk” — to reduce the gun violence in predominately African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods.
It’s not all that great
In 2002, NYPD performed 97,296 stops, in which 80,176 resulted in no charges. In 2011, the NYPD performed 685,724 stops, in which 53 percent involved Black suspects, 34 percent involved Hispanic suspects, and in which 51 percent were between age 14 and 24. Eighty-nine percent of the 2011 cases resulted in no evidence found or no charges.
Despite the fact that most “stop & frisk” stops result in no weapons or drugs found, and despite a vastly disproportionate targeting of minorities, the NYPD and the mayor’s office support the policy’s use. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly stated that, “[Stop-and-Frisk] is a program that is effective … you used to not be able to walk down the streets of this city safely and today you can walk every neighborhood during the day and most neighborhoods at night.” While the crime rate in New York City did drop under Bloomberg, the drop was equitable to cities that do not use “stop & frisk.” New York’s crime rate drop between 2001 to 2010 was 29 percent, while it was 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore.
More concerning, these very statistics that are the rationale for Bloomberg’s policies are suspected to be falsified. In reports from the Village Voice and NYPD Confidential, allegations that the mayor’s office and the NYPD depressed crime statistics to suggest that policies are working were issued against Bloomberg. Bloomberg attributes such reports to politics.
The blind pursuit of results is a poor way to govern. The business of government necessitates that every action must be justifiable on its own terms. The needless subjecting of a population to unfair policies — despite the intended end result — is simply unfair, as it assumes a blind take towards accountability. Machiavelli believed that any possible “cruel action” by government should be “swift, effective, and short-lived” in order to decrease the harmful impact of such actions on the people and to minimize rebellion.
Even though the number of “stop & frisk” stops were reduced in 2012 and the program was — in part — —ruled unconstitutional just this month in 2013, the policy is still drawing controversy.
In a report from the New York Daily News from Jan. 27, a plainclothes cop was videotaped slamming Jurard St. Hillaire, 21, into a brick wall, injuring him, during a car stop. The police officer filed no paperwork for the stop, there was no detectable rationale for the stop, and the stop appeared to be false and excessive — -even though the NYPD denies this.
An article from Care2 pointed out that “stop & frisk” stops can lead to public sexual assaults, as stopping officers are touching genital areas, buttocks and breasts during body pat-downs with bare hands. This type of evasive search, which is regularly done during “stop & frisk,” makes evidence found inadmissible in court. However, many young people are unaware of this or embarrassed to admit to being mishandled and allows officers to get away with the harassment unpunished.