Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg is under fire over comments he made in 2015 when he said 95% of murderers and victims were minorities.
The US billionaire also said that in order to combat crime, authorities should “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighbourhoods”.
He made his unearthed comments at the Aspen Institute think-tank as he defended New York City police’s “stop-and-frisk” policy, which he employed when he was mayor.
The tactic which encouraged officers to stop and search people has been found to disproportionately affect minority black and Latino communities.
But it is also a policy which Donald Trump has backed as president.
Mr Trump on Tuesday attacked his potential White House rival, calling him a “total racist” on Twitter and posting an audio clip of Mr Bloomberg’s remarks – a tweet which the president later deleted.
But the media mogul hit back, saying Mr Trump was the one who has divided the country “with racist appeals and hateful rhetoric”.
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And the Democratic hopeful vowed: “I will do everything I can to defeat you between now and November.”
For years after his 2002-2013 mayorship, Mr Bloomberg defended the “stop-and-frisk” tactic as an effective way to save lives.
However he then apologised for it a few days before announcing his presidential candidacy in November.
On Tuesday, he restated his apology, saying he had reduced the tactic’s use by 95% by the time he left office.
He said: “I should have done it faster and sooner. I regret that and I have apologised.
“I have taken responsibility for taking too long to understand the impact it had on black and Latino communities.”
Tom Steyer, another Democratic presidential hopeful, said Mr Bloomberg’s 2015 comments were “deeply disturbing” and Symone Sanders, an adviser to Joe Biden’s campaign, claimed the remarks were “sad and despicable”.
In the five-year-old audio clip unearthed by Bernie Sanders supporter Benjamin Dixon, Mr Bloomberg was heard saying police need to be where the crime is, “which means in minority neighbourhoods”.
He said: “Ninety five percent of your murders – murderers and murder victims – fit one MO [modus operandi]. You can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops. They are male; minorities 16 to 25.
“The way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the walls and frisk them.”
New York police data shows close to 95% of victims and suspects in murder cases were minorities in 2015.
In his presidential campaign, Mr Bloomberg has tried to attract votes in the African-American community, including a proposal to narrow the wealth gap between black and white Americans.