Opinion: New Yorkers need real solutions to the city’s problems, not more cops
More police and destruction of homeless encampments do not make the city safer.
When the then-Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams campaigned for mayor last year, his platform confused some of us. He called for both the expansion of police presence throughout the city, AND to reign in and reform the New York City Police Department. While many people worried what his potential victory could mean for New Yorkers constantly targeted by police, he touted his position as insider, asserting that it would allow him to make change the way only someone with an inside track could.
So far, a cornerstone of his approach has been to flood the subways with more and more police. Since January of this year, Adams has added hundreds more police to the subways. Despite this dramatic addition of police to the subway, no one was able to prevent or apprehend the person who opened fire at the 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn this month. Nor have the influx of officers been able to stop an increase in transit-related crime. This serves as an important reminder to anyone who thinks that increased police presence means increased safety: It clearly does not.
Instead, many New Yorkers are calling for solutions that will actually make a difference. We are calling for short and long term investments that will make New York City a healthier and safer place for everyone. The Brooklyn Movement Center convened a Black-led, intergenerational working group of public health researchers, community safety organizers, and public policy advocates came together to release a public health roadmap for safe New York City neighborhoods, the Invest in Black Futures Report.
Just weeks ago, as now-Mayor Adams revealed his “Blueprint to End Gun Violence” for the city, we realized just how aggressive his vision of expanded police presence would be. The most recent polling shows that this strategy is far out of step with what New Yorkers want.
Mr. Adams has been out stumping for his plan, trying to assuage the fears of New Yorkers worried about being unfairly targeted by police and asserted that no one would be targeted ”based on their ethnicity and where they live.” But upon closer examination, an NYPD memo outlines 30 precincts where Adams’ newly empowered plainclothes police, also known as Neighborhood Safety Teams, would focus their work.
All of these precincts are in Black and Latinx communities.
Shawn Williams, the father of Antonio Williams who was killed by the NYPD in 2019, recently testified in front of City Council to share his experience with Neighboorhood Safety Teams, and asking for accountability for his son’s murder. “No matter their uniform, the Neighborhood Safety Teams are directed to aggressively target Black and Latinx people and rely on their own suspicions and racial profiling. This is what the Anti-Crime Unit did to my son, Antonio Williams. In 2019, Antonio was simply waiting for a cab in the Bronx when Anti-Crime officers unconstitutionally tried to stop him. They chased and assaulted him, then recklessly shot and murdered him with little care for his life.” The officers who killed Antonio still have their jobs in the NYPD.
Is this the “precision policing” that Adams promised?
Though he has denied it, the core of Mr. Adams' approach is nearly identical to the theory of policing which asserts that signs of disorder in neighborhoods (like homelessness, panhandling, and damaged property) lead people to commit more crime. This “broken windows theory” claims that cracking down hard on these minor crimes can prevent more serious crimes. Since its introduction almost 40 years ago, we have learned a lot about this strategy. And now after decades of research, we know that this approach to policing does not create more safety, and that it might actually create more crime and harm.
Ultimately, this approach creates a culture of fear and mistrust in targeted communities, and criminalizes low-income New Yorkers and communities of color, pushing people into the carceral system for nonviolent, minor infractions. Criminalizing poor people of color at such alarming rates has devastating impacts on individual lives, families, and destabilizes entire communities. It is not the solution, it only exacerbates harm.
Last week, Mr. Adams doubled down on his approach of targeting the most vulnerable and calling it progress.
In a time of devastating economic uncertainty, the Mayor is targeting the city’s unhoused population by sending NYPD officers to do rounds of sweeps targeting people living in the street. Police officers have been clearing out people living in tents and under boxes.
But his approach is not what New Yorkers want.
They do not want to make criminals out of those without homes.
A recent NYC Speaks poll, considered one of the city's largest ever civic policy surveys — found that New Yorkers want prevention and long-term solutions to homelessness. In fact, 44% of adult New Yorkers believe affordable housing and homelessness prevention would best keep their neighborhoods safe.
In several neighborhoods, this poll shows a sharp disconnect between our legislators and the communities they represent. In one example, a neighborhood in Harlem that has recently had new anti-gun units deployed — residents said they prioritized public safety initiatives before increased policing. Similar calls for public safety and mental health resources, instead of police, were clearly heard from Brooklyn, Queens and other neighborhoods around the city.
It is clear: Our communities are facing a crisis, and telling City Hall what they want to see. Our legislators must not abandon us at this moment.
Instead, we are calling for them to prevent the spread of gun violence by increasing funding to violence prevention and intervention programs, as well as programs that safely remove guns from our communities and support everyday New Yorkers as first responders. We also know that to create safety we need to meet community needs like stable housing, increased harm reduction services for substance users, and access to community-based mental health programs and services. In this time of increasing economic instability, New Yorkers need well-funded public employment programs, resources for youth development and high quality education.
These are the solutions that are proven to work. These are the things that create and sustain healthy communities. These are the facts, and now it’s time to act on them.
Monifa Bandele is chief strategy officer at MomsRising, and Sala Cyril is community safety director at Vision Change Win. They are both activists with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and sit on the Leadership Table for the Movement for Black Lives.
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