New Mayor, Same Old Mass Incarceration Problem

By D'Angelo Cameron on February, 4 2022

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D'Angelo Cameron

Senior Digital Engagement Manager. “I work at Common Justice because I believe in the power of digital media as a tool to change the narrative around incarceration and justice in the United States.”

Eric Adams has been Mayor of New York City for a little more than a month and already his administration’s position around policing and public safety has been in opposition to progress the city has made in recent years.

Before becoming Mayor, Adams called for bringing back solitary confinement to Rikers after activists and families of victims were able to halt the use of the inhumane practice. Recently, in response to a weekend shooting that killed two NYPD officers, Adams unveiled a 15-page multi-pronged plan to address the rise in gun violence in the city.

In early February, President Biden met with New York Mayor Eric Adams to discuss their approaches to solving the spikes in violent crime in big cities like New York. During the meeting, both men made commitments to expanding social services. However, in the same breath, putting more support and resources behind policing, prisons, and surveillance in communities of color – the same old methods that fuel mass incarceration in Black and Brown communities. With President Biden’s history with the 1994 Crime Bill, which set up most of the mass incarceration policies we’ve seen since the 1990s, and Mayor Adams’ call for law-and-order, both men simultaneously spoke to solving violent crime, while doubling down on the failed policies that caused it.

Adam’s administration approach to public safety seems to try and toe a line between pro-police measures and using social services to address violence, but ultimately these conflicting efforts may actually fuel more violence than solve it. The plan deploys more officers city-wide and brings back a controversial anti-gun policy unit, which will be stationed in Black and Brown communities across the city. The mayor’s plan puts some resources into preventative social services, but the bulk of the support will be to bolster NYPD.

Mayor Adams has also been on record for saying he plans to bring back stop-and-frisk, another counterproductive and racist policing strategy that led to many Black and Brown communities being targeted by the police. The controversial practice was not effective at stopping crime and only served as a vehicle to flood the city's prisons. The reintroduction of stop-and-frisk in New York City will mean that more communities that are under-resourced, will be again over-policed, instead of being supported with anti-violence interventions that actually center their needs.

After the tragic death of Michelle Alyssa Go, who was pushed to her death at the 42nd street subway station stop in Manhattan, Mayor Adams announced a plan to "flood" the subway system with more cops and mental health professionals, continuing to provide conflicting solutions to the issue of public safety. Unfortunately, even by trying to balance the deployment of more cops with mental health professionals, the reality remains that incarceration will be the main method by which the administration believes it can achieve safety in the city – not by addressing the root causes of violence. By throwing more cops at the issues of gun violence, homelessness, and mental health crises, the administration is regressing some of the efforts made to effectively deal with these issues holistically.

We have the tools to address violence without relying on incarceration, we just have to support them. Programs that employ the use of violence interrupters, restorative justice-centered practices, and prevention, are much more effective at stopping violent crime. Anti-violence programs that center the needs of communities not only are effective at crime prevention, they also build communities by offering ways to address the inequalities that lead to violent crime happening.

The strategy brought forth by Adam’s administration to try to straddle the line between more cops and more social services isn’t compatible with the reality our communities are facing. We cannot afford to go back on the efforts made to center the needs of communities and effectively address violence without relying on police and incarceration. Previous administrations have tried to incarcerate and police their way to safety in New York City, and yet violence still persisted. We must address violence holistically, support the specific needs of communities, and drop the ineffective “law and order” policymaking that has never delivered on the promise to make us safer.

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