The murder of George Floyd last year and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and systematic racial inequality have continued to loom large over America’s collective political psyche. As the brutality that Black Americans have always faced has been brought into mainstream discourse, more and more Americans, primarily Democrats, have come to support serious measures being taken to keep police officers under control. Phrases like “defund the police” and “ACAB,” or “all cops are bastards,” have become commonplace. The Democratic voter base has made it clear: things must change.
Unfortunately, the Democratic Party itself has not responded accordingly.
New York City is a prime example of this disconnect between elected Democrat politicians and their voter base. George Floyd’s murder in May of 2020 sparked incredible unrest, getting thousands of New Yorkers to take to the streets and march. The Brooklyn Bridge was covered again and again by protestors with a demand both straightforwardly simple and fundamentally significant: stop the killings. Stop the all-too-common murders of unarmed Black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner and countless others.
A portion of Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn was allotted to be called “Juneteenth Grove.” Murals were put up. Politicians made statements against police brutality. But nothing fundamentally changed — the police were not defunded, and justice was not rethought.
In fact, the Democratic Party has nominated a former police officer, Eric Adams, to run for mayor of New York City. This further ties into the disconnect between the demand for change and the Democratic Party’s insistence on offering tokenism instead. It is important for Black Americans to be represented within politics, but I don’t feel that a former police officer, a part of the system that has caused so much harm to Black New Yorkers, will provide this representation effectively.
Merely electing a Black mayor is a nice gesture, but is ultimately empty — and New Yorkers who vote should be cautious of empty gestures like this one.
While Adams was a police officer, he helped found the organization 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a group dedicated to police reform, and has been known to oppose what he considers the overuse of stop and frisk, the degrading procedure that allows police officers to stop pedestrians and frisk them at will. However, he has made it clear that he is not opposed entirely to the practice either. He has said that when used correctly, it is a necessary part of policing, and that he himself frequently employed the practice as a police officer. And while he has voiced criticisms, he has also praised former Republican mayor Rudy Giuliani, known well for his authoritarian, tough-on-crime attitude. It is worth noting that this is the same Rudy Giuliani who served as former president Donald Trump’s attorney.
Adams has boasted of having support from police unions, one of which gave its endorsement to Trump during the 2020 presidential election. In August, Adams attended a fundraising event in the Hamptons hosted by Republican billionaire John Catsimatidis. This further suggests that Adams will not bring about genuine change. If he actually planned to reign in the NYPD, their unions would not be giving him support — and neither would Republicans.
A former police officer, no matter the details of his time on the force, should not be mayor right now. New York City cannot afford to risk having a mayor who will not be tough when it comes to stopping police violence. We need a mayor who will stand up to the NYPD without any qualms.
Adams is speculated to have won largely because of concern in New York City over safety. The city has seen a spike in shootings over the last few months, making a former law enforcement official seem like an appealing choice. But it is becoming more and more apparent that high crime rates are caused primarily by poverty, not by lack of police presence. In order to deter crime, we need a mayor focused primarily on bringing about greater economic equality and a higher standard of living for the poorest New Yorkers. Adams has proposed some solutions, but these need not come at the expense of the safety and dignity of the primarily Black and Latino New Yorkers who are killed at the highest rates by police officers.
Adams has made it clear that he will not seriously change policing in New York. His attendance at fundraising events run by Republican billionaires suggests that he intends to change very little about anything. As Americans begin to demand serious change that goes beyond the minor reforms Adams has advocated concerning the police, we need politicians who will do the same.
Desmond Keuper is a sophomore majoring in sociology.