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Eric Adams: How Representation Becomes Meaningless

As a major metropolitan area of the United States, New York City is constantly being watched by the rest of the country, and the world at large, particularly when it comes to electoral issues. In 2021, New York City had a plethora of local elections from City Council to Borough President. However, everyone’s eyes were mostly glued to the mayoral Democratic primary, where some of the most progressive mayoral candidates the city had ever seen were now in the running with the moderate Democrat Eric Adams, who eventually won with 50% of the votes. He went on to beat Republican candidate Curtis Silwa in the general election, and was officially sworn into office at midnight on January 1, 2022 during the Times Square New Years celebration.

Immediately following his entry into office, news headlines emphasized the triumph of Adams becoming New York City’s second Black mayor in History: “Eric Adams elected as New York City’s second Black mayor, CNN Projects.” “Eric Adams Becomes NYC’s Second Black Mayor” (Gothamist). While electing a Black person to such a position of power for only the second time in history, especially given the diversity of this city, is a significant event, the heavy focus on Adams’s racial identity overshadows his core values and policies. As a former police officer, Eric Adams supports initiatives that bolster the negative impacts of the prison industrial complex on his Black constituents. Additionally, he often uses his affiliation with the New York Police Department to claim complete expertise on these issues and assert dominance over his critics, even if they are Black themselves. His election stresses that representation alone is not enough; if the person in said position will actively cause harm to the community they represent, why should we label their election as a true achievement?

Eric Adams served as a police officer with the NYPD for 22 years and has continued to display a strong support for the police officers of New York City. His unwavering commitment to reforming rather than working to eliminate the city’s manifestations of the prison industrial complex has been met with much pushback, most notably his stances on stop-and-frisk and solitary confinement. Stop-and-frisk—or Stop, Question, and Frisk as the NYPD calls it—allows police officers to stop anyone on the street for “reasonable suspicion” and has wreaked havoc on Black New Yorkers. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, of the 13,459 stops reported by the NYPD in 2019, 59% were Black (compared to 9% white). While being frisked, people are subjected to being patted down and having their personal belongings confiscated, often suddenly, when simply walking down the street moments prior. Even though Adams has acknowledged the racial disparities in who gets stopped, he wrote in a 2021 op-ed for New York Daily News, “The question was never whether stop, question and frisk should be allowed; it was how it should be done.” He firmly believes that stop-and-frisk is imperative to stopping crime in New York City, even though the evidence says otherwise. Frankly, stop-and-frisks simply don’t work very well: 2019 data from the NYPD found that 66% of people frisked that year were innocent.

The fight to end solitary confinement has caused conflict with Adams as well. Just last year, a plan was passed by the NYC Board of Corrections to end solitary confinement in New York jails, citing the death of Layleen Polanco, a Latina trans woman who passed away in solitary confinement on Rikers Island in 2019. Similarly, Kalief Browder committed suicide in 2015, two years after being released from spending three years in solitary confinement on Rikers Island; he was sentenced to Rikers for allegedly stealing a backpack. Adams has made it clear, throughout his mayoral campaign and subsequent tenure as mayor, that he does not at all support this plan. He intentionally refers to solitary confinement as punitive segregation in an attempt to distance himself from complicity in the cruelty associated with solitary confinement, even though the Board of Corrections itself uses the two terms interchangeably. Many City Council members agreed with the plan and have recently been urging Adams to rethink his efforts to keep solitary confinement alive. In response to these council members, Adams said, “I wore a bullet-proof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, then you have the right to question me…” in an attempt to ignore pleas for justice and assume ultimate authority over the issue. Not only do Black people account for a disproportionate amount of the general prison population, but they are also overrepresented in solitary confinement (62% of the SHU population in Upstate and Southport facilities as of 2011, the NYCLU finds). Further, his presumed sense of superiority presents the ways in which his identity as a Black man is being used to push problematic narratives to the forefront. He weaponizes his identity to push an agenda that is not helpful to the majority of Black people who will be affected by this system.

Eric Adams does not care to listen to New York’s most marginalized community members. Although the excitement over having another Black mayor of New York City is understandable, it is clear that support for Adams means support for inherently racist policies that will perpetuate systemic racism and cause massive amounts of damage to the Black community. The safety of Black New Yorkers is at risk with someone like Adams as mayor, and that should be what’s making news headlines. Representation means more than having someone who looks like you in office. It means being heard, fought for, and protected, not having lived experiences and hard data dismissed out of arrogance and a hunger for power.

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