2021 mayoral race

The Mayoral Debate Over Policing Ramps Up After Times Square Shooting

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

A shooting in Times Square on Saturday afternoon that left three wounded, including a girl who was toy shopping with her family, has invigorated the debate over policing between the leading candidates running to be New York City’s next mayor.

Eric Adams, a former police officer and the current Brooklyn borough president, appeared on the scene just hours after a reported argument escalated into violence. As a city hall aide told the New York Times, it is rare for elected officials to hold press conferences at a shooting where no one has died. But a daytime shooting at a crowded tourist destination is an opportunity for a staunch advocate for boosting police funding to make his case — even if he did not mention the more controversial parts of his platform, including the return of the unconstitutional tactic of stop-and-frisk and the reinstitution of disbanded plainclothes units responsible for a disproportionate number of police shootings.

“We’re not going to recover as a city if we turn back time and see an increase in violence, particularly gun violence,” Adams said in a video broadcast on Facebook Live on Saturday. The next morning, Yang, who lives nearby, held his own Times Square presser, describing the importance of policing in the city. “My fellow New Yorkers, if there’s one thing I want to say to you it is this: Nothing works in our city without public safety, and for public safety, we need the police,” Yang said. “My message to the NYPD is this: New York needs you. Your city needs you.” With the two front-runners feeling crowded in the same moderate lane, Adams returned to the scene of the crime to own his signature issue. “We can’t just recognize these shootings when it is in Times Square,” he said Sunday. “It is time for us to recognize it when it is on any block in our city. It took a shooting in Andrew Yang’s backyard for him to wake up and discover there was a crime problem, and to stand up to gun violence.”

Progressive candidates in the race responded to the shooting with vows to tackle escalating violence in the city without expanding the police presence. Maya Wiley, who has called for cuts to the police budget, said on Sunday that the shooting revealed the need for “real and effective” measures to get guns off the street in New York. Dianne Morales, who also wants to reduce NYPD funding, tweeted that the shooting was a “painful reminder that we need bigger solutions than the police.”

It was inevitable that policing would emerge as a hot-button issue in the 2021 mayoral race. After last year’s historic protests against police brutality and the state attorney general’s lawsuit alleging widespread instances of NYPD brutality at those demonstrations, shootings have risen dramatically this year: At least 463 New Yorkers have been shot in the first four months and ten days of 2021, compared to 239 in the same period last year. The discussion over policing will almost certainly be a focal point of the first official Democratic mayoral primary debate to be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday.