Michael Bloomberg has admitted he was wrong to support the "stop and frisk" police practice that ensnared disproportionate numbers of blacks and Latinos, apologizing to a largely African-American church on Sunday.
Bloomberg's reversal comes as he considers whether to compete for the Democratic nomination for president, a contest in which African-American voters are highly influential.
The 77-year-old former New York mayor has not formally entered the 2020 race, with the months-long nominating contests starting in February, but he has taken steps to get on the ballot in states with early filing deadlines.
Why has Bloomberg apologized?
"I was wrong. And I am sorry," Bloomberg told the Christian Cultural Center, the New York Times reported, describing the center as a black megachurch.
The self-made billionaire who served 12 years as New York mayor had long defended stop and frisk as an effective police tactic that saved lives, even after a federal judge in 2013 found it violated the rights of ethnic minorities.
Why is 'stop and frisk' controversial?
The practice stopped and frisked more than 684,000 people at its peak in 2011, ostensibly in many cases to search for illegal weapons. But the non-profit Center for Constitutional Rights conducted a study that found blacks and Latinos were nine times more likely than white people to be stopped in 2009. The searches sometimes turned up low-level offenses such as drug possession that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
Bloomberg told the congregation the policy eroded trust with the public and he aimed to earn back that trust.
"Over time, I've come to understand something that I long struggled to admit to myself: I got something important wrong. I got something important really wrong. I didn't understand back then the full impact that stops were having on the black and Latino communities. I was totally focused on saving lives, but as we know, good intentions aren't good enough," Bloomberg said.
Is there a path to a President Bloomberg?
Bloomberg, who has long flirted with a presidential run, is believed to be concerned that none of the existing candidates in the Democratic field are strong enough to beat Trump in 2020.
There are serious doubts as to the viability of a Bloomberg candidacy among Democratic voters, however, with new Reuters/Ipsos polling suggesting only around 3 percent of Democrats and independents would vote for him.
The result puts the mogul well behind Biden, Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, and level with Kamala Harris.
Leapfrogging candidates who have been campaigning and fundraising for over a year would be a tough task, even with Bloomberg's financial resources, and as a former Republican mayor he could struggle to win over some key Democratic constituencies.