When the New York mayoral race began in earnest late last year, the city was still convulsed by the murder of George Floyd, and cries for “fund the police” rang out from the Bronx to Battery Park.
Now, with Tuesday’s Democratic Party primary approaching, Eric Adams – a former black police officer who called for more NYPD officers – is one of the favorites to win a contest that has become a referendum on the attitude of New Yorkers towards police and public safety.
Several polls have shown that Adams first a crowded field as an increase in shootings and hate crimes has put public safety at the top of voters’ concerns as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, once the main problem, has faded.
From the moderate wing of the party, Adams competes with entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Kathryn Garcia, the former head of the city’s sanitation department whose campaign appears to be gaining momentum. They all proposed various reforms to improve the police, ranging from better training to increasing recruitment ages and imposing severe penalties for bad officers. Yet they remained rhetorically supportive of the police and their role in the city, and rejected progressive calls to reduce their resources.
“Nothing works in our city without public safety, and for public safety we need the police,” Yang said last month after a four-year-old girl was shot in broad daylight in Times Square.
Garcia, meanwhile, dismissed the “definancing” as not being serious, saying, “Black lives matter, period… But we still need safe policing.”
To their left is Maya Wiley, the former chief lawyer for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has pledged to take $ 1 billion out of the NYPD’s $ 6 billion budget and redirect it to social services. She has had a number of recent endorsements, most notably from Bronx congresswoman and progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“Here is the reality – we are hiring police officers to do the work of social workers,” she said Wednesday evening during a final debate dominated by questions about public safety.
Jumaane Williams, the New York City public attorney, said he felt compelled to support his campaign after concluding voters had a false choice: between more police or more violence. “Police alone cannot – and never have – provided public safety,” Williams said.
Another progressive candidate, Dianne Morales, a former head of schools, wants to take $ 3 billion from the police department and has gone so far as to claim that the police are making the city more dangerous.
In a predominantly Democratic city, the winner of Tuesday’s primary will almost certainly win the November general election and take over America’s largest city at a perilous time, as it tries to recover from a pandemic that killed more than 33,000 inhabitants and unraveled commerce and social fabric.
Whoever wins, some analysts and observers have concluded that the political winds have turned on security.
“The pendulum had swung towards the fundraising movement, and I think it is coming back now,” said Richard Aborn, chairman of the Citizens Crime Commission, a non-partisan group that advocates for better policing. “I think the fundraising movement only flourished for the short time it did because crime was so low.”
Alexander Reichl, professor at CUNY Queens College, agreed that the rise in crime had “reshaped” the race for mayor, saying: “It took the breath of many progressives.”
Similar debates are unfolding in other American cities also affected by the rise in crime. Yet, as Reichl observed, this was a particularly big problem for New Yorkers because of the “long shadow of the 1970s and the fear that the city was getting out of hand.”
Shooting incidents increased 64% this year through the second week of June, according to NYPD statistics, compared to the same period a year ago, when the number was also high. Over a 12-month period, shootings more than doubled from the previous 12 months. Murders increased by 13% and hate crimes reported by 117%.
The numbers do not reflect the horror of reports of assaults on older Asian women on sidewalks and degrading neighborhoods as graffiti and other lawlessness take hold.
“The situation is very bad. The city has almost politically renounced all enforcement of quality of life crime, whether it be raclette pests, illegal hawkers, street corner drug traffickers, all emotionally disturbed individuals. among the homeless population, ”said William Bratton.
Bratton led the Police Department from Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, when falling crime rates set the stage for soaring real estate prices and rebranding New York City as “the safest big city in the world. ‘America”.
Bratton returned in 2014 for the first three years of the De Blasio administration. Crime continued to decline even as he scaled back the aggressive “stop and search” tactics that sowed so much resentment in black and Hispanic communities during the Bloomberg era.
Bratton blamed criminal justice reforms passed by city and state politicians – including the removal of the cash bond for many offenses – for much of the resurgence. He also lamented how the May 2020 murder of Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, and other such incidents, “shattered” trust with communities of color.
“Whoever ends up being elected mayor, this will have to be their first priority because it will apparently get worse before it gets better,” he said.
For Williams, the public lawyer, this analysis overlooks the role of the pandemic and the economic and social dislocation it caused while shutting down the courts. For those who advocated only incremental reforms, he noted that the Minneapolis Police Department underwent its own overhaul before Floyd’s murder.
“We have to reimagine public safety in its truest form because what we have done is allow the police to take on all of this responsibility and it is not working,” he said.
Adams’ political origin story begins with police violence: While growing up in Queens as a teenager, he says he and his brother were beaten up in a basement by two white policemen. This experience, he says, led him to a career in law enforcement so he could make changes from within.
He retired as captain after a 22-year career during which he co-founded the 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care group to combat racism within the force and build better relationships with the black community. .
Adams’ campaign has shown some warts, especially regarding his past fundraising practices and, more recently, questions about whether he is actually a resident of New Jersey. (He’s not, he insists.) He also has an unusual tendency to speak in the third person.
But his reputation as a pragmatist and negotiator reassured the city’s business elite. He was also well placed for the mood swings on crime. Hours after the Times Square shooting, he held a press conference nearby.
“Gun violence,” he replied this week when asked what his top priority would be if elected mayor. “You watch it over and over again in all parts of our city.” The toll, he explained, was human but also linked to the city’s economic recovery: “No tourist will come to this city if a three-year-old is shot dead in Times Square.
Among other changes, Adams proposed to hire more officers of color and cut red tape to send more police to neighborhoods. Somewhat controversially, he wants to revive the special “anti-crime units”, which were disbanded last year, to fight against gun crime. He refused to disavow the “stop-and-frisk”, provided it was put to good use, a point Wiley has repeatedly hammered at him.
“He knows policing and the advantage he has as a reformer is that he will understand what can be done and be in a very good position to reject the notion of what cannot be done.” said Aborn of the Citizen’s Commission on Crime.
But Victoria Davis, whose brother, Delrawn Small, was shot and killed by a police officer on leave in New York in 2016 after a road rage incident, was not convinced. Davis accused Adams of “playing with fear” and ridiculed him as “the benchmark [candidate] for whites who want to be progressive, but don’t know how ”.
In the South Bronx, a neighborhood that has seen the worst crime in New York City over the years, longtime resident and blogger Ed Garcia Conde has felt his neighbors split across generations.
“You have the older generation that wants to ‘send the troops’ and do something about the increase in gun violence and then you have the younger generation that wants to ‘finance’ the police,” Garcia Conde said. “It will depend on who comes to vote. “
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