This Month in Eric Adams: The N Train Subway Shooting Reveals the Trap Adams Set for Himself

Frank R. James blew a hole that everyone in power is now desperately, pathetically trying to patch up.

John Teufel Apr 28, 2022

For more, see John Teufel’s “This Month in Eric Adams” columns from January, February and March

Eric Adams is caught in his own trap. To win the mayoralty, he had to convince people of the following propositions: 1) that New York City was experiencing a historic rise in violent crime; 2) that regular New Yorkers were at terrible risk because of it and 3) that he, as a former cop and a realist in a city of naïve wokesters, could reverse the trend. On the first and second points, Adams was too successful — he’s cemented, with the help of ghoulish media trolling for clicks, the narrative that New York is an unlivable hellscape. Nobody feels safe here anymore. This might not be an issue except for the fact that the third point was a lie. Adams was never going to reduce crime rates, because he is beholden to the false religion of “broken windows” policing. And when Frank R. James stepped into a crowded subway car on the morning of April 12, he blew a hole in the Adams story that everyone in power is now desperately, pathetically trying to patch up.

It has been incredible watching Adams try to close this Pandora’s box. Hungry for publicity even in dull times, he made the morning-show rounds in the days after the subway shooting and faced the same sort of rhetoric he regularly deployed on the campaign trail, but this time aimed at him. On MSNBC’s The Sunday Show, Jonathan Capehart — with frightening crime statistics displayed in eye popping graphics — described the city as “spiraling out of control.” No no, pushed back the Mayor, nothing is out of control. The 80s and 90s were out of control, he insisted, and this is not that.

Adams is, of course, correct. Crime here continues to be at historic lows. New York is one of the safest big cities in the world. But Adams never felt the urge to clarify this until now, when he sees that his prescriptions for crime — which are lifted directly from the Giuliani era — are ineffective. His right-wing allies took notice of his sudden rhetorical shift: The New York Post editorial board chided Adams for comparing New York now to New York then, reminding him that anti-cop agitators are the real menace, and that nothing short of a full embrace of Giuliani-style brutality and mass incarceration will stem the tide. Adams, oh so briefly, stepped out of line, and the Post fired a warning shot.

To understand how jumbled Adams’ messaging has become, how he is backtracking on nearly every point he previously made concerning crime, consider his assertions to George Stephanopoulos, also made during his subway shooting media blitz. Red states, Adams insisted, have higher crime rates than blue states. Again, this is correct! But how can it be simultaneously true that New York’s increased crime is the result of bail reform and agitation from Black Lives Matter activists (something Adams has claimed as recently as this very month), and also that New York is actually doing better on crime than states that vigorously rejected BLM-favored reforms?

Adams’ current allies — largely racists and fascists who want nothing more than cops bouncing Black heads off concrete — are doing him a disservice if they also want him to succeed as a mayor. Their tactics will never bring down crime. Just a few days after the subway shooting, a new analysis of the budgets and crime rates of hundreds of U.S. cities going back nearly three decades revealed exactly what funneling endless money into police departments buys taxpayers: more misdemeanor arrests for non-violent crimes like loitering and drug possession, and no appreciable decrease in overall crime rates.

This is the exact opposite conclusion that has been relentlessly pushed on us by advocates of so-called “broken windows” policing, which posits that by cracking down on “quality of life” crimes, overall crime rates fall due to, essentially, vibes. People tended to buy this narrative because crime really did fall in New York, dramatically, throughout the 1990s, the same time that Giuliani and Bill Bratton instituted “broken windows.” But crime fell everywhere in the 90s, including in jurisdictions that rejected “broken windows,” and the actual cause of this national decline in crime rates is notoriously unsettled.

The subway shooting forced the Mayor to backtrack on nearly every point he previously made concerning crime, much to the displeasure of his right-wing backers.

Adams favors the aggressive, confrontational policing of the Giuliani era — anti-crime units, stop and frisk, and a crackdown on petty crimes like turnstile jumping — even as he rejects the notion that New York now is anything like those “bad old days.” He is in a saw trap of his own design — he can survive, but only by lopping off the same narrative that got him elected in the first place. And if he does that, he will lose the tabloids and local media, which feed off a sense of chaos and face retribution from his own police force — something de Blasio learned can be legitimately frightening.

And so Adams flails and doubles down and seeks solace in familiarity — more cops, more money, more dystopian tech wet dreams. He is vowing to introduce metal detectors in New York City’s 472 subway stations that serve millions of commuters every day, an idea that is something an insane person locked in an asylum would say. He has doubled the number of police on trains, even though there is no conceivable way an increased police presence could have stopped Frank James.

The great irony of all of this is that the Brooklyn subway shooting, from the initial, horrible incident to the flight of the perpetrator to his eventual capture, played out exactly the same way it would have if New York City had no police at all. This embarrassing faceplant necessitated a frantic scramble from Eric Adams, the NYPD and the media to reinforce and reassert the lie that more police means less crime — that police are effective and necessary for safety.

First, the subways are already filled with cops — 3,250 were assigned there as of the beginning of the Mayor’s term, and that was before the Adams crackdown on homeless people sleeping on trains. New Yorkers are used to their presence, slouching Gestapos glued to station walls, their eyes locked on their smart phone screens, their faces vacant. While they’ve shown effectiveness in brutalizing people who don’t pay the subway fare, it’s less clear how they would stop a man determined to shoot up a subway car. Even if such a person saw these lumps of taxpayer money as a threat, he could simply switch cars, change stations and ride for a time until he saw an opportunity.

N and R trains at the platform of the 36th Street Subway Station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Photo: Zach Summer.

Second, in the aftermath of the shooting, the local duty captain declined to stop train traffic in and out of the station. This allowed James to cross the 36th Street subway platform and escape on a departing R train. Even worse, it could have led to a second shooting, as James was now locked in a new subway car full of potential victims.

Third, James dropped his gun and credit card at the scene, then roamed free for 24 hours before apparently getting bored and turning himself in. As Curbed put it, James “just sort of hung around Manhattan,” visiting Dimes, Katz’s, and eventually, a McDonald’s in the East Village. Having descended the ladder of New York dining, he then called the police and asked to be picked up. But because he walked a couple blocks north to St. Mark’s, he foiled the NYPD’s vaunted intelligence, and it fell on some random New Yorkers to call the cops and clarify exactly where James was. This is embarrassing!

From top to bottom, the Brooklyn subway shooting was a PR disaster for the NYPD, a true “emperor has no clothes” moment. We love to think in/talk about “narratives,” and by any reasonable account the narrative that followed this tragedy should have been about the failures of the police state to prevent or respond to it. But elites have a vested interest in protecting the protectors of capitalist order, and so we were treated to a multi-day ticker-tape parade for the heroic NYPD.

Elites have a vested interest in protecting the protectors of capitalist order, and so we were treated to a multi-day ticker-tape parade for the heroic NYPD.

Adams, backed up by NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, argued that the police were heroes to be celebrated because their investigation meant James had “no option” but to turn himself in. I don’t know about this — James seems to have had several options, for example going to Crif Dogs, but instead decided the cops were taking too damn long to catch him. Regardless, trying to attribute unknowable motivations to James rather than simply admit the cops didn’t catch him is pathetic. It’s a weak argument. The detective’s union didn’t bother justifying their claim that the cop who slapped the cuffs on James was not just a hero but the “greatest detective in the world.”

The local media — which is truly and without exaggeration raw police apologia in New York — erased any mention of facts embarrassing to the NYPD. ABC 7 reported on James’s capture by quoting Sewell and Adams and incredibly, not mentioning that James turned himself in. Ditto NBC New York, which told viewers the NYPD used “crimestoppers tips” to capture James. CBS News, same story: a regurgitation of NYPD press room propaganda, never stating that James gave himself up.

Younger people tend to forget that local newscasts are still massively popular news sources, far more popular than network or cable news shows. For millions of New Yorkers, what they see every night on Eyewitness News or what Hazel Sanchez tells them every morning on WPIX 11 is how they understand the world around them. These people will never see the Brooklyn subway shooting as anything other than an unqualified NYPD success story — and a reason why we need ever more cops on the beat.

Much has been made about how the Strategic Response Group (SRG), the ostensible anti-terrorism unit at the NYPD, was busy destroying homeless encampments at the same time James was on his culinary tour of lower Manhattan. A living metaphor like that would seem to be catnip to a journalist, but the connection was never made, not by local newscasts, the tabloids or the “respectable” papers like the Times and the the Journal. You had to go on Twitter to see what SRG was up to at the same time an alleged manhunt was underway.

Adams (correctly) sees the police first and foremost as defenders of the real-estate market, protectors of business. The homeless are bad for property values and thus they must be destroyed. Our city’s wealthy Karens dislike graffiti and take personal offense to turnstile jumping, so the practitioners of those acts must be shipped off to Rikers with bail amounts they could never pay. Adams knows cops cannot prevent murders or shootings — they can barely solve them after the fact! — and allocates his resources accordingly. But this reality of policing must be hidden from the public at all costs, lest they begin to question the billions of taxpayer dollars spent by the cops to benefit New York City’s least needy.Adams is failing. Crime rates have increased during his tenure, despite the deployment of armies of anti-crime officers and subway and homeless crackdowns. Crime may fall again at some point. But if it does, it won’t be because of the cop-mayor. And the only way to make people understand this — normal people who don’t spend half their days tweeting (like I do) — is to call out purveyors of propaganda for the false narratives they push. Hazel Sanchez, I’m looking at you.

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