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Mayoral Election 2021

Yang and Adams Try to Out-NYPD Each Other After Times Square Shooting

Mayoral wannabe Andrew Yang speaking in Times Square in Sunday, one day after a shooting. Photo: Christopher Robbins

The two top-polling mayoral candidates claimed on Sunday that the city is on a path to the so-called Bad Old Days — and the NYPD must be the primary solution to the problem.

One day after three innocent bystanders — including a 4-year-old girl — were shot on Saturday afternoon in Times Square, Andrew Yang and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held dueling press conferences in the Crossroads of the World to promote their policing bona-fides.

“The truth is that New York City cannot afford to defund the police,” Yang said on Sunday, after the brazen daylight shooting. Yang pointed out that the gunfire occurred blocks from his family's Hells Kitchen apartment.

“If the city cannot stop shootings in Times Square, what does that say about what’s happening in Black and Brown communities throughout our city, where we are underinvesting and where we know rates of gun violence are higher," Yang said. "There’s nothing more fundamental than the ability to walk in your own neighborhood with your family without fear."

As mayor, Yang said he would release the city’s crime statistics every day (as opposed to once a week), send more police officers into neighborhoods where most shootings occur, and create “a new anti-violence and community safety unit that will consist of specially trained officers with clean records in plainclothes, who will be held to higher standards.”

He did not address one central issue of policing — over-aggressive and well-documented racially biased tactics in communities of color — that was a central issue during a wave of protests against police misconduct last summer. And when asked if his plans called for increasing or decreasing the police department’s funding and headcount, Yang sidestepped the question. 

“We need to take the resources that are currently allocated to the NYPD and commit them to measures that will actually reduce gun violence and make us safer,” the candidate said, sounding like some of his opponents, who have pledged to redirect NYPD resources to underserved communities, if not explicitly use the word “defund.”

Yang’s new proposal to create another plainclothes police unit to target guns across the city is essentially what Adams, a former cop, has been arguing for months. The NYPD’s Anti-Crime unit was disbanded last June; its officers garnered a substantial number of complaints from New Yorkers for harassment and unlawful searches. The officers were also involved in a disproportionate amount of fatal police shootings.

Adams is polling close with Yang in a crowded field, and noticed the similarities. 

“Andrew Yang has heard me say this at forum after forum, debate after debate,” Adams said at the second of his two Times Square press conferences in less than 24 hours after the shooting. “So it should not have taken gunshots blocks from his home before he said, 'Let me listen to what the most qualified person in this mayor’s race is saying.'”

Adams, who has in the past summoned the press to watch him get hit with an immobilizing net gun and dig drowned rats out of plastic buckets, accused Yang of “showmanship,” and argued that the city is reverting to the one he first encountered as a rookie NYPD officer in the late 1980s. He recognized that there was "good conversations" coming out of discussions of police reform, but that other candidates were ignoring the police department's role in the process.

“Thirty years later, we’re right back where we started from. And that’s unacceptable,” Adams said in Midtown. “The enemy is winning, and we are waving a big white flag of surrender.”

Other mayoral candidates have said they will not bring back the NYPD’s aggressive plainclothes unit. Dianne Morales,  the only candidate who uses the phrase “defund the police,” said she will cut the police budget by $3 billion to fund social programs and anti-violence initiatives, and create a new city agency to respond to mental health and homelessness calls.

Overall, the city has experienced a 166-percent increase in shootings this year, on top of last year’s 45-percent increase in murders. 

These figures are horrific, but they are still vastly below what New York City experienced in 1990, when 2,605 people were murdered. According to the NYPD’s citywide data, homicides are down 80 percent compared to 1990, part of a 50-percent or more reduction in all the seven major categories of crime. 

Murders in 2021 have increased by 16 percent compared to 2020, but another form of preventable deaths that disproportionately affect poor New Yorkers — pedestrian fatalities — have jumped by 65 percent, mirroring a nationwide trend.

As for whether the NYPD is under-resourced and ill equipped to investigate gun violence, the department’s budget for fiscal year 2020 was its highest ever: at least $5.7 billion, according to the Independent Budget Office. Last summer’s bruising budget battle in the City Council was advertised as a $1-billion cut to the police budget, yet the actual cuts were closer to $400 million on paper — but $334 million of that was supposed to come from overtime reductions that the NYPD has already exceeded.

In Midtown, Yang said he believed that the rise in violent crime stemmed from the social disruption of a global pandemic that killed more than 50,000 New York state residents, a view shared by many legal experts and sociologists

Yang deflected when asked by Streetsblog to comment on whether he agreed with NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea’s assertion after the shooting that criminal justice reforms were to blame, despite no data linking the two

“I’m someone who follows the facts, so what we need to do is dig in and see if there are other aspects of recent changes that may be affecting gun violence in different ways,” Yang said. “If the facts show that we have to consider making changes we should.”

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