The state New York City was in about 30 years ago was pretty much the same as it is today: racial tensions, crime concerns, economic pressures. For many, David Dinkins, the city’s first black mayor, was a welcome change in such a controversial time – he deposed three-year-old incumbent Ed Koch. About 12,000 people came to City Hall Park to see Dinkins being sworn in.
“I stand before you today as the elected leader of the greatest city in a great nation to which my ancestors were brought, chained and whipped in the hold of a slave ship,” he said at the time, according to The New York Times. “We are not yet finished on the road to freedom and justice, but we have certainly come a long way.”
Dinkin’s only tenure as mayor was marred by his response to the 1991 Crown Heights riot, in which the death of a 7-year-old black child sparked days of riot and clashes between black and Jewish residents. Still, Dinkins took up the public safety issue, hired thousands of police officers in the face of a budget deficit and launched the Safe Streets, Safe City anti-crime program that put more officers on street patrols.
It’s the same intricate focus on public safety that seems to characterize Eric Adams, who was elected the city’s second black mayor on Tuesday, defeating Republican Curtis Sliwa. In Adams, the city’s next leader will be a black progressive with moderate politics, who built his platform in part on crossing the line between police accountability and tough rhetoric against crime (crime in New York actually declined in 2020). He has focused his public speaking on his own law enforcement experience: He is a retired NYPD captain who suffered police brutality as a teenager.
Adams has spoken out against the Defund the Police movement, claiming that hiring more black officials and combating gun violence could reduce police brutality. It is unclear what black New Yorkers could expect from a self-proclaimed “pragmatic moderate” as mayor at a time when black communities everywhere are calling for an end to racist police violence.
“There are people out there who worry,” said Anthony Beckford, president of Black Lives Matter Brooklyn, of Adams. “Some people call him a progressive moderate, a centrist, others call him a democratic conservative. There are many factors that go into politics. He cannot call himself the ‘mayor of the blacks’ as much as we wish. ”
A 1993 status report commissioned by the government at the time. Mario M. Cuomo concluded that Dinkin’s response to the riots in Crown Heights was inadequate. In addition to disagreements among investigators, prosecutors, and the judge involved in the case, the report said Dinkins was slow to respond to days of unrest and failed to adequately question how his police commanders handled the riot while accusing black and Jewish communities the mayor to take sides.
Adams’ victory comes decades later when blacks and allied progressive communities called for an end to police brutality by disempowering the police, disbanding police departments and diverting law enforcement funds to social services, especially in the tumultuous months following George Floyd’s death on Memorial Day 2020 in Minneapolis. While abolitionists believe they are not proposing that the authorities abandon communities to violence, elected leaders have cited rising violent crime rates as reason enough to keep police budgets intact.
“He covers his basics where he says Black Lives Matter, but it also draws on this more conservative topic of conversation that resonates with many voters,” said Christina Greer, associate professor of political science at Fordham University and author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream “.
Greer added, “His insider-outsider status as a police officer has been very beneficial because we know that black voters tend to be more moderate and not necessarily progressive. The conversation about defusing the NYPD didn’t sound like true to a significant portion of black New Yorkers. “
In the June Democratic primary, Adams won black, Latino, and low-income voters from outside Manhattan in New York, defeating progressive darling Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and former attorney for Mayor Bill de Blasio; and former hygiene officer Kathryn Garcia. Black residents made up 34 percent of the congregation districts that Adams won, which include Harlem, the Bronx, and South Brooklyn, according to Bloomberg.
“I’m you,” Adams said early Tuesday after voting on PS 81. It’s a slogan designed to capture his history as a retired cop (he spent 22 years with the New York Police Department), a victim of police violence, and an activist – he co-founded 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care to address racist police violence within the NYPD to fight.
Adams’ proposal includes recruiting more minority officials, prioritizing community relations with the police, and providing more training. “The policing debate has been reduced to one wrong choice: either you are with the police or you are against them,” Adams said on his campaign website. “That is just wrong because we are all for safety. We need the NYPD – we just need it to get better. “
According to Adams, this attitude does not contradict his concerns as a professional cop turned politician “beaten by police in the basement of a station building when he was 15”. Experts say it is difficult to say what kind of leader Adams will be: will he take calls for radical changes in policing seriously? Or rely on known reforms that have proven ineffective?
“If you listen to Eric Adams’ rhetoric, it’s like every black man has this uncle who says, ‘Black lives matter, but we need to talk about Black on Black crime.’ It’s a black conservative talking point and a white conservative talking point, ”Greer said.
“That makes some people nervous. You see him working with progressive Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other. When he starts assembling his cabinet and commissioners it will give us some insight into the kind of governance that awaits us. ”
Adams has decades of political experience in New York, joined the state Senate in 2007 and became Brooklyn District President in 2013.
“Eric Adams is a very accomplished politician,” said Greer. “His understanding of the entire five boroughs gave him an advantage.”
Adams’ proposals include climate change, housing, public transportation, and the economy, but his public speaking appeared to focus primarily on public safety and helping small businesses. So all eyes are on the self-proclaimed “Biden of Brooklyn” as he, like the President, will have the task of dealing with public safety and calling for radical changes in policing in a time of racist reckoning.
Beckford said he had met with Adams and was planning to elect a member of the Social Justice Organization to one of his mayors’ committees. He praised Adams for the way he tried to connect with black communities in the city, but acknowledged that there are “things we don’t see at eye level.”
“I support the Defund the Police, and I know he does not,” said Beckford – Adams has claimed that the Defund the Police movement was not started by blacks but by “young wealthy whites.”
“I’m absolutely against plainclothes cops,” Beckford said. “We call them the ‘tyrants of the street’ – they pretend they don’t have to obey NYPD patrol guidelines. They jump out of their cars and harass and brutalize people.
“My main focus and the focus of BLM BK is to make sure that he is there for the people, that he is ready, regardless of our demands, at least to bring people around the table to listen to them. While he rules, I want him not only to hear our voices, not only to see us, but to continue to understand and listen to us. “
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