The Troubling Case of Eric Adams’s Theater

by Fionna Farrell

Staff Writer


art by Priya Banerjee

[originally published April 22, 2022]

 

If there’s one thing that can unite a city of eight million, it's disdain for their mayor. Former Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio promised a lot, but his stridence only ever seemed to lean towards posturing. Once hailed as “progressive before it was cool,” the ex-mayor has now made himself known to be distinctly uncool. He tweets things like this from his bermuda shorts: “The future of New York City is so bright I gotta wear shades!” That tweet was taken down because a woman’s chest could be seen reflected in his sunglasses. When de Blasio ran for president in 2020, he garnered roughly 0% of the vote. Needless to say, mockery of him spans across party lines.


If there’s anything that current mayor Eric Adams possesses over de Blasio, it’s incomparable amounts of swagger. He rides Citi bikes in color-coordinated suits; he goes on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to discuss his clubbing adventures — “I am the mayor; this is a city of nightlife. I must test the product.” A favored trope of his is “going out at night with the boys and waking up in the morning with the men.” Adams is a former police captain, who hates the idea of the city being run from behind a screen. He will not grant us the indulgence of “wallowing” in Covid. But he’s also a vegan. And just like he expects everyone else to, he puts himself out there — he is everywhere, whether it be for emergencies or meet and greets. While de Blasio had a police escort drop him off at a gym 11 miles from his home, Adams is seen frequently riding the subway.


This constantly being out and about has not proven without consequence. Adams has tested positive for Covid in the past week, in the aftermath of the horrifying April 12th subway shooting. The attack, which left 29 wounded and ten shot, saw a 62-year-old man unleash a barrage of bullets on passengers from a Glock 17 pistol. He also set off smoke grenades on the train. The suspect was captured roughly a day after the shooting, after calling in the tip on himself. From a makeshift media center in Gracie Mansion, Adams responded swiftly and concisely: “We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual.”


The incident comes a couple months after Adams released a nine-point Subway Safety Plan, which placed more officers within stations and brought about roughly 256,000 subway inspections. Furthermore, Adams has also created a Blueprint Against Gun Violence and launched Neighborhood Safety Teams, either of which focus on locating the source of guns and “empowering violence interrupters.” He implemented a new Citywide Crime and Quality of Life Enforcement Initiative, which focused on the 17 precincts that account for nearly half of the city’s shootings. In short, Adams—since day one—has been firm with his initiative to fight crime. This has made him a source of controversy not just over whether these tactics “work,” but the ethics that inspire them. Many are concerned that Adams’ tactics will bring about a return to broken-window style policing (i.e. enforcement of lower-level offenses to prevent more serious crimes), a method that was popular under Giuliani’s notorious reign in the 90s.


Furthermore, in the wake of the pandemic, gun crime has been concentrated in communities hit hardest by the virus: that is, low income and minority communities. Instead of focusing efforts around these communities, Adams has made lofty appeals for “all of us” to help in stopping the violence. He negates the momentous class discrepancy between those most affected by this violence: white collar workers who still work at home can create walls between themselves and these gross acts. Not everyone has that privilege.


On a different though not unrelated note, Adams garnered lots of attention last month with his initiative to remove homeless encampments from New York City streets. While Adams claimed to the NY Times “We’re going to rid the encampments off our street and we’re going to place people in healthy living conditions with wraparound services,” only the former part of that promise seems to have come through. Never did Adams specify where those living in the encampments would go, nor can public officials force anyone to go to a homeless shelter. The reality of the situation is that encampment sweeps do infinitely more harm than good. The city’s Progressive Caucus had a particular word to describe them: “cruel.” Meanwhile, while New York City’s homeless population feels under attack, Adams has pushed for a 20% cut to the Department of Homeless Services.


Adams stepped into office full of abundant promise. Much of this seemed to stem from an image that was ostensibly the opposite of de Blasio’s; he was confident, articulate, assertive, and stylish. He promised transformative change to the city—something that now feels all too familiar. Yes, it has only been three months since Adams’ inauguration, but the trends that we see here point to an alarming reality: “swagger” is not enough to save a city when under its veil lie justifications for cruelty and, some would say, even sadism. Adams’ posturing as a tough-on-crime masculine reformist has done little good for those whom he aims to “protect.” Meanwhile, homeless encampments are being swept off the street with little concern for legitimate protection of homeless individuals. Even if its surface is more appealing to us, Adam’s routine is just as performative as de Blasio’s—and perhaps, even more dangerous, because, with its flairs of self assurance, it is not so easily mocked. Adams is full of tweetable phrases; he wants to “get stuff done.” But we must reflect on what these pithy ambiguities really mean. Who does Adams really serve? Ostensibly, it is New York as a whole—and I do think the Mayor means that—but this is just another vagary. Another justification for force and excessivity. Adams himself has said that he is focused on the “perception of crime” as much as “crime itself.” Let us not confuse the two — our perceptions so often deceive us, and come from biases that ought to be unlearned, not indulged.