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Eric Adams

Eric Adams’s Super-Criminal Fever Dream

Like any good cop, the mayor is good at manufacturing a threat. 

Mayor Eric Adams in a blue suit, during a press conference on August 3, 2022

(Ed Reed / Mayoral Photography Office)

On Wednesday, Eric Adams, New York’s number one crystal enthusiast, held a press conference that purported to address bail reform but could be more accurately described as an attempt to conjure a vibe. Convincing the public over the last year that New York City was more dangerous than it actually is had not produced a meaningful drop in crime or a major legislative crackdown, so the mayor resorted to a particularly bizarre form of pageantry. He wanted to prove to New Yorkers that there were super-criminals among us, and that we should be afraid.

At One Police Plaza, Adams spoke of “dangerous, violent” people responsible for an overwhelming share of criminal activity in New York. “This is about a small number of people that are taking advantage of the existing laws to endanger our city,” he said. 

Along with the NYPD’s chief of crime control strategies, Michael LiPetri, the mayor presented the finding that 716 people had been responsible for 30 percent of shooting incidents since 2021. In a marquee data set leaked to the New York Post, the NYPD said it had found 10 repeat offenders who, together, had been arrested nearly 500 times since bail reforms were enacted across New York in 2019. 

The repeat offenders LiPetri listed were often involved in property theft: One was a commercial burglar, another stole cars. “He is a crime wave,” LiPetri said of one convicted felon who had assaulted a police officer, a rare instance in which those assembled named a specific violent crime. “And guess what? He’s walking around the streets of New York City tonight,” because, as the administration was so keen to point out, all of these people were alleged to have been given desk appearance tickets and failed to appear in court. 

Adams said he was prevented from presenting the names and faces of these hardened criminals arrested for multiple crimes, though it does sound like that’s exactly what he would have preferred to do: “Sometimes I don’t know why we hire lawyers,” he said, “They said we can’t show the names and faces, so I have to abide by the rules.” 

The main idea was that these offenders were boomeranging back out onto the streets because judges and prosecutors were failing to work as hard as the NYPD. That state law had recently been changed to prevent just this sort of thing from happening—or that data recently released by the state shows a decline in re-arrests over the past two years—wasn’t significantly addressed.

Oddly, for all the effort spent to give these “dangerous, violent” people a concrete form, the administration didn’t offer much of a tangible solution to the problem of repeat offenders. That’s probably because the reforms that Adams would favor are already in effect: In April, Governor Kathy Hochul and the state legislature significantly expanded arrest and bail-eligible crimes, specifically noting that repeat offenses should be weighed. They also closed a loophole, ensuring repeat offenders could be arrested again if they hadn’t yet been arraigned. 

Asked by a reporter if his administration had offered Governor Hochul a proposal to allow judges to consider "dangerousness" in setting bail—a standard that has been proven to facilitate racist policies and that Hochul has shied away from—the mayor demurred. Adams did say that he presented these figures to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who "expressed his concerns."

“I’m scratching my head regarding the mayor’s recollection of conversations we’ve had,” Heastie wrote on Twitter. “To date, we’ve received no data from the mayor and his team.” He added that in their most recent conversation, the speaker expressed “dismay” that the data Adams possessed bore so little resemblance to the information the state collected. 

Adams also noted, incredibly, that “if you are on Rikers, you did something really bad”—a wildly inaccurate statement considering that just last year, 16 men died on the island, the majority of them awaiting trial.  

The press conference came less than a week after a widely shared article in Bloomberg took issue with Adams’s preferred version of New York City, one in which hardened criminals were exploiting liberal criminal justice policies and residents could expect to be the victim of a violent crime on any city block. As the outlet found when it analyzed City data, there was certainly an uptick in crime when the pandemic hit—but the murder rate now is about what it was in 2008, when the city was recovering from economic collapse, and about one-fifth of what it was in the early '90s, that gritty and dangerous period Adams is so eager to invoke. 

Asked about the Bloomberg story, Adams claimed it was the press, and not his administration, that was obsessed with crime: “Look at how much coverage the media is doing on crime,” he said. “Do an analysis on how many front page stories talked about crime.” 

But then again, concrete policy recommendations weren’t really the point. Adams's press conference had turned off the governor and a good portion of the state legislature, but his rhetoric still resonated with one particular audience: 

Like any good cop, Adams is good at manufacturing a threat. 

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