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A test for New York’s new mayor

A test for New York’s new mayor

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Eric Adams ran for mayor of New York City promising to curb crime, but without over-policing. A spike in shootings is putting that pledge to the test.


Transcript
Nimo omer, narrating:

Hi, I’m Nimo and this is the Sensemaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world.

Today, an upsurge in violence in America’s biggest city, and the man who has promised to tackle it.

***

“I wanted people to know my story, being a dishwasher, having a learning disability, of being arrested as a child, going to school at night, working in a mailroom. That was the story I wanted to send New Yorkers and they felt me. And because of that, I’m now going to become the mayor of one of the greatest cities on the globe.” 

Eric Adams, CNN

A month ago, Eric Adams was sworn in as mayor of New York City. 

The 61-year-old is a New Yorker born and bred: he grew up in Queens and Brooklyn. 

And he’s got a life story that is quintessential New York. 

He talks about his hard-scrabble youth and his ambition to pull himself up by the bootstraps. 

He speaks about how he launched a career in the police, then in politics…and then how he made it all the way up to the top of city government. 

That’s the personal narrative that’s propelled him into the Mayor’s office.  

Eric Adams comes across as someone who knows the city from top to bottom. He understands its potential… but he also knows its troubles.

One of the most important stories he tells is about the moment that motivated him to become a police officer:

“It happened, you know, many years ago. You know, I went through a terrible period with policing. I was abused as a child. Police officers assaulted my brother and I, and then  later I joined the police department. Some civil rights activists asked me to join and I saw the dysfunctionality of our agencies and I said, we could run a better city.” 

Eric Adams, CBS, Colbert

Eric Adams has wanted to change the city for the better for a long time. 

And now he’s in office, he says that law enforcement will be one way of achieving that. 

Public safety was a massive part of Eric Adam’s campaign. Because New York, like many other American cities, has seen an upswing in violence during the pandemic. It’s worth saying, New York is MUCH safer today than in the 1990s.

But in 2020, there were 1,531 shootings in New York – twice as many as the year before. 

Last year, they climbed again to 1,877. 

So Eric Adams campaigned promising to sort crime out – and it was a message that won him the election. 

“Public safety is a prerequisite to prosperity. And you hear that more than ever in communities that are dealing with crime.”

Eric Adams, NBC

Now he’s on the job as mayor, Eric Adams has had to hit the ground running to start delivering on his campaign pledge…

In the month since he assumed office, 5 police officers and dozens of civilians have been shot, including an 11-month-old baby shot by a stray bullet. Data from the New York police department shows that 82 people have been the victims of shootings so far this year.

New York was plunged into collective mourning by the deaths of two cops shot in the line of duty in Harlem last week. 

And it fell to Mayor Adams to speak for the City, as thousands of uniformed officers stretched down Fifth Avenue to bid farewell to Detective Jason Rivera, a week after he and his partner were killed responding to a domestic disturbance call.

“You stand in the gap of safety,” Eric Adams said in his eulogy. And Jason Rivera’s widow Dominique told the congregation: “The system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service.”

The challenge for Mayor Eric Adams is this… how do you balance the concerns of police and demands for public safety with those of people who fear a return to heavy-handed policing.

***

Last week Eric Adams said that he wants to bring in “anti-gun” units. 

“We will enhance existing public safety units with new neighbourhoods, safety teams, which were focused on gun violence. We will launch these additional teams in the next three weeks with deep focus on 30 precincts where 80% of violence occurs.”

Eric Adams

But increased policing is controversial, especially among non-white communities in New York – communities that have, historically, been overpoliced and subject to abuse by law enforcement.

Eric Adams ran on a promise to deal with rising crime in a fair and equitable way. 

This the first big test for the new Mayor and already he is discovering that when policy meets reality, things always get complicated. 

***

Eric Adams says that his “public safety” units will help keep guns off the streets. 

But to civil right advocates, they sound a lot like a rebrand of controversial “anti crime” units the city had in the past. 

They were made up of specialized plain clothes police officers whose job was to deal with illegal firearms in the city. But the units were notorious for their heavy handed approach and for targeting innocent people of colour. 

In 2014, Eric Garner, a Black man, died after being held in a chokehold by a plain clothes officer from one of the city’s anti-crime units. 

They were disbanded in 2020 following Black Lives Matter protests. 

Eric Adams says that these new units will be different: 

“I know how, unfair and abusive that unit was because I testified in federal court…We want to reinstitute an anti-gun unit where police officers would have a modified version of police, uniform, apparel. They will be better trained. We’re going to use technologies with cameras to video every interaction.” 

Eric Adams, CNN

He says that this is about targeted, precision policing. And he’s promised that – as someone who’s experienced police brutality first hand – he won’t allow abuse on his watch. 

Eric Adams has also acknowledged that it’ll take more than just cops on the streets to reduce crime in New York:

“We’re going to change the ecosystem of public safety. It’s not just police, it’s mental health, professional youth organizations, clergy leaders and those crisis management teams. We have to redefine policing and what it means in our country and our city. And I’m going to get it right.” 

Eric Adams, CBS, Colbert

The causes of crime are complicated – and they’re often tied up with social problems like poverty, discrimination and mental illness.  

If Eric Adams is really going to deal with New York crime in a just and equitable way, these policies are the most important ones. The city is watching.

Today’s story was written and produced by Ella Hill.


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