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New York shootings an early test for former cop-turned-mayor

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The taped-off area marking the scene of a shooting in Harlem, New York is seen on January 22, 2022./AFP
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Jan 24, 2022 - 07:32 AM

NEW YORK — Gun violence has rocked the first three weeks of Eric Adams’ tenure as mayor of New York, piling pressure on the ex-cop to deliver on his promise to improve public safety in America’s largest city.

A shooting Friday in the neighborhood of Harlem left one police officer dead and another in critical condition.

It was the latest flashpoint in the Democratic mayor’s nascent rule, in which he has yet to present a comprehensive plan to rein in the crime he has decried.

“It is our city against the killers,” said Adams, a retired police captain, on Friday night at Harlem Hospital, where the officers — who had been responding to a domestic disturbance — were taken following the incident.

The recent shootings also include a shocking incident in which an 11-month-old girl was hit in the cheek by a stray bullet in the Bronx as she was in a parked car with her mother.

They are seen as part of a broader trend of gun violence fueled by the accessibility of firearms, against the backdrop of the social and economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic.

And they’re testing the new mayor’s tough-on-crime campaign message, while setting up a potential showdown with the left flank of his party over police funding and crime reduction strategies.

“This is a sea of crime that’s been fed by many rivers. We have to dam each one of those rivers,” Adams told CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show Sunday.

“These crimes did not start during my administration,” he added. “They have been here for far too long in many parts of our community.”

Earlier, Adams urged federal action on gun control while calling on New Yorkers to work with the police to stem violence.

“No matter how painful this moment is, don’t give up on these people in this city,” he said Friday.

Budget negotiations 

Adams, 61, has clashed with his leftist critics, many of whom are vocal online and have pushed to “defund” the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest.

Now that call may be coming to a head as Adams, whose position on policing has long rankled New Yorkers on the left, prepares to negotiate a new city budget.

He said recently he would consider exempting the police force, with a budget exceeding $5 billion, from citywide cost-cutting measures.

It was not clear whether those details would be part of the “real plan” for the city Adams said Sunday he would roll out this week.

Politicians who use “defund the police” as a rallying cry appear unlikely to give any leeway to Adams, who has already aggravated progressives over issues including remote learning.

Kristin Richardson Jordan, a leftist city council member, won her Harlem district on a “defund” platform, which advocates replacing policing with alternative public safety systems.

She expressed sadness over the killing of the police officer Friday, but added: “To be clear, the death of police officers is not what abolition is. Abolition is an end to violence altogether.”

Blueprint for safety 

Last year, police recorded 488 homicides in the city of nine million people, up 4.3 percent from 2020 — though Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, points out that 25 years ago New York experienced four times the number of homicides it sees today.

While saying he disagrees with the notion of “defunding the police,” Butts also told AFP “more police funding is not an appropriate response.”

“How are those resources used? To what end? What’s the strategy?” he said. “The foundation of our approach has to be economic well-being, health and the well-being of communities, which is a much broader public policy conversation.”

Adriano Espaillat, a congressman whose district includes Harlem and parts of the Bronx, said Saturday “the federal government must play a pivotal role” in stemming the violence, citing a need for legislation mandating stronger background checks and accountability of gun manufacturers.

Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, expressed surprise that Adams has not yet unveiled his pitch to tackle crime — but said this is the moment to “mold public opinion.”

“This hands the mayor an immense opportunity, and if he doesn’t seize it I’m sure he will regret it,” Sherrill told AFP.

Adams offered scant details about his upcoming public safety blueprint, but he said Sunday it would include the reinstitution of a “plainclothes anti-gun unit” and a bolstered police presence in the city’s sprawling subway system.

But a top priority will be firearms: “We have to stop the flow of guns,” Adams said.

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