Politicians like NYC’s next mayor Eric Adams are bad for policing in Black communities
OPINION: I have zero faith that Adams can deliver the police reform we need to keep Black people like me from being afraid of the police
I was surprised to see CNN’s John Berman reading my tweet to New York City’s next mayor Eric Adams in which I criticized his primary win, but frankly, I wasn’t surprised by the mayor’s response. In my tweet, I was referring to police violence and police abuse of power and how thousands of New Yorkers marched demanding change just last year. I was referencing how I, and many other Black people, are more afraid of the NYPD than of New York’s criminals.
But instead of addressing the issue of police abuse and misconduct, the soon-to-be new mayor’s response was to begin talking about crime. He spoke of a recent tragic shooting and he mentioned gangs and name-checked Chicago, which is a favorite of all who want to fearmonger about crime.
I was talking about the police and how he, as a police veteran who is steeped in the system, is the wrong person to get us significant police reform. His response was to remind us how much we supposedly need the police. He wanted to remind people how prevalent crime is, setting the stage for more fear of crime, which allows him to add more police and bring back stop and frisk — both of which he has said he wants to do.
These are not the sorts of changes that will help get Black communities better policing. I have zero faith that Adams can deliver the police reform we need to keep Black people like me from being afraid of the police.
What would be truly helpful? What would I hope he would do? A meaningful restructuring of policing would be great. For example, fewer officers with guns and less traveling around looking for crime. In a system where cops are judged based on how many arrests they make, it’s a recipe for disaster having people with guns driving around forced to arrest someone or else they’re considered to have not done their job. It would also be valuable to reallocate some of the multi-billion dollar NYPD budget to things that will truly combat crime — because cops are bad at preventing or stopping violent crime.
If we spent more money on creating jobs, raising wages, and improving education, we would have less crime — but that doesn’t play as well with white suburban voters as getting tough on crime. At the very least we should make it harder for police to legally stop citizens without evidence they committed a crime and remove police from dealing with mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, and child welfare. Cops aren’t social workers and yet we often ask them to be and the results can be tragic.
Will any of this happen under Adams? I see little evidence that it will. Not in a climate where all we hear about is the “crime surge.”
But is there actually a crime surge? Many argue that there is one as a way of saying we actually need more police. Many say the stats are inflated and manipulated by cops to make the police seem more necessary than they are. Of course, numbers are up year over year because we all were in the house last year, but the truth about whether there’s a crime surge is, well, complicated.
I spoke with a leading criminologist who explained that nationwide in big cities most crime is down but murder is up significantly versus 2019 (pre-pandemic). But the criminologist said this isn’t exactly indicative of a rise in crime as many people think of it. Many people think crime means professional or dedicated criminals but crime also includes working “respectable” people who get angry or drunk or whatever and shoot their neighbor, their spouse, or someone they’re arguing with at a bar.
Not to mention, in the lead-up to the last presidential election there was a surge in gun purchases — especially among Trump voters and urban Blacks.
It’s this surge in gun ownership that has largely fueled the rise in murders. It’s not coming from people who many traditionally think of as criminals and more police won’t be able to stem the numbers. It would be great if people stopped trying to use these numbers as a way to justify putting more police on the street but when citizens tell the new mayor we have a policing problem and he says we have a gun violence problem, we know we’re not having a reasonable conversation.
I am nervous about having a Black mayor who wants to bring back stop and frisk, a policy the police abused so relentlessly that it was judged unconstitutional. That does not tell me we will be moving toward police reform. I know Adams founded a group called 100 Blacks In Law Enforcement Who Care but the issue is not about “caring.” We don’t need an “improved relationship” as if Black communities are in a bad marriage with cops and there are things both sides can do.
The problem is the system of policing that directs and incentivizes cops to make as many arrests as they can and to arrest Black people as often as possible and provides them with all sorts of protections when those arrests turn violent or deadly. But the city has gotten behind Adams because his Blackness and his copness allowed him to put together a winning coalition of Blacks and whites. The next step will be who he hires as police commissioner; that will tell us more about what New York can expect from policing under the Adams administration.
I will be tweeting at him.
Touré is the host of the podcasts Toure Show and Democracyish and the podcast docuseries Who Was Prince? He is also the author of six books.
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