‘Outside Agitators’ Brought a Molotov Cocktail to Neely Vigil, Says Administration That Also Keeps Insisting Kids Are Buying Fentanyl Weed at Bodegas
The mayor and the police do not make it easy to take their claims on faith.
3:59 PM EDT on May 9, 2023
In the aftermath of the public killing of Jordan Neely by Daniel Penny, a former U.S. Marine, on the subway last week, and the subsequent failure to arrest or charge Penny, regular protests have erupted in the Broadway-Lafayette subway station where Penny was killed. Over the past two nights, those protests have been met with escalating official force, with police arresting protesters and the reporters covering them.
Embracing a tactic made famous by segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace and decried by Martin Luther King Jr., Mayor Eric Adams has been blaming "outside agitators" for the protests, and, implicitly, for the violence of the police response. Police announced last night that they had recovered what they called a Molotov cocktail from the ground near the protest, showing a picture of a glass Topo Chico seltzer bottle with a piece of fabric stuffed inside of it, along with some clear liquid that Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey told the press the NYPD has not yet identified.
The presence of a Molotov cocktail on the ground in the Broadway-Lafayette train station is currently an unverified claim by the Adams administration and its police force. At the moment, the public and the press aren't in a position to evaluate that claim on its merits. It would be nice if New Yorkers could take the assertions of their police and their government at face value, but unfortunately for everybody, both this administration and, for much longer, the NYPD, have spent the foregoing years enthusiastically pile-driving their credibility into the ground.
Tuesday morning, Adams was at John Jay College, where he once again repeated the unsubstantiated and thoroughly debunked claim that New York City children are buying fentanyl-laced marijuana at bodegas on their way to school.
When Adams made this claim to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Hell Gate looked into it. We were unable to pry any kind of supporting evidence for this claim from Adams's press team, but we did talk to a medical expert in toxicology and specifically fentanyl who explained that lurid scare-stories about fentanyl-laced marijuana are false, dangerous, and do not even "make pharmacological sense."
We thought that might be the end of it. Maybe the mayor, dazzled by the bright lights of the national stage, had said something off the cuff, and, recalled to his better self by our bracing factcheck, would ditch the line. Not so! Adams went on to repeat it again two days later, as part of his address for the "New York City Day of Prayer" at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn. And here he was again on Tuesday, hitting the same line at the John Jay conference on Safe and Just Communities.
It's not entirely unheard of for a politician to stick with a line that works for them, heedless of the actual veracity of what they're selling. Unfortunately, neither is it unprecedented for the NYPD to cite threats of violence or property damage to justify violent suppression of peaceful protests, only to whiff on the supporting evidence.
In 2020, the police commissioner tweeted a picture of some bins of bricks, claiming that violent protesters were stashing them around the city to be used as projectiles. The bricks were later confirmed to be ordinary construction debris from a site far removed from any protests. There was also, of course, the episode of the allegedly poisoned milkshake.
When the NYPD trapped several hundred protesters in Mott Haven in the Bronx on June 4, 2020, keeping them detained until after the City-imposed curfew fell before proceeding to beat and violently arrest the protesters, legal observers, and unlucky passers-by for violating that curfew, it prompted an outcry and multiple investigations, including a report by Human Rights Watch that determined the action had violated state and federal law, the protections of the U.S. Constitution, and international human rights law.
The NYPD's defense for this bloody action, at the time and ever since, was that it had secret intelligence which showed that the march in the Bronx was going to involve violence and property destruction.
"Social media invites to this event encouraged injuring police officers and looting, resisting arrest, and firebombing police vehicles," then-Commissioner Dermot Shea testified before the New York attorney general. "Invites also encouraged local gangs to converge on the event site to harm police and destroy property. The department recovered a firearm, gasoline canisters, lighter fluid, hammers, spray paint, fireworks, and other incendiary devices from participants."
Versions of this claim were echoed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in the press, by then NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan in official testimony, and by NYPD leadership in interviews and communications with Department of Investigation investigators. You might, therefore, expect the NYPD to be able to cite this evidence in a court of law when it was sued over its conduct in Mott Haven.
Mmmm, no. After years of litigation in the consolidated lawsuits over the NYPD's handling of the 2020 protests, the department has failed to produce any of the intelligence alluded to, despite repeated efforts by lawyers for protesters and by the attorney general's office. Lawyers for the NYPD have told the court they still intend to argue that secret police intelligence justified the bloody melee police instigated in the Bronx that day, but they don't intend to actually show that intelligence. Suffice it to say, this is, legally speaking, a weird strategy if you're not embarrassed to show people the evidence you say necessitated the mass arrest of a whole bunch of New Yorkers.
It may be, in the coming days, that we will be shown definitive proof that the seltzer bottle with the rag in it presented by police last night was a Molotov cocktail brought by an out-of-town ne'er-do-well who intended violence and harm. In the meantime, the mayor and the police are asking us to take their word for it. They're not making it easy.
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Nick Pinto served two tours as staff writer at the Village Voice. His reporting has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Gothamist, The New Republic, Rolling Stone, The Intercept, and elsewhere.
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