US gun crime: New York Mayor Eric Adams faces tough battle as shootings rise

President Joe Biden is heading to the Big Apple to meet the new mayor as gun crime ticks up

After one month on the job, Eric Adams’s crime-fighting prowess has been tested to the limit, with the shooting deaths of two police officers among a spate of deadly gun attacks. AP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

New Yorkers turned out in droves to elect Eric Adams mayor last year, as the tough-on-crime campaign message of a former police officer resonated in a city beset by fears of rising levels of gun crime.

After one month on the job, the new mayor’s crime-fighting prowess has been tested to the limit, with the shooting deaths of two police officers among a spate of deadly gun attacks across the city's five boroughs.

US President Joe Biden will meet Mr Adams in New York on Thursday for talks on tackling an apparent crime wave in the city and beyond — an effort by the two Democrats to calm worried voters and blunt criticism from the right.

Before the presidential convoy rolled along the Manhattan tarmac, Mr Adams, a former police captain, returned to his campaign message, saying public safety was his “highest priority”.

Five New York police officers were shot last month. Two of them — Jason Rivera, 22, and Wilbert Mora, 27 — died from injuries sustained while answering a domestic disturbance call in Harlem, in Upper Manhattan, on January 21.

For Mr Adams, the tragedy showed how owning deadly weapons had been “normalised” in the city. The gunman, Lashawn McNeil, 47, used an automatic modified weapon and had stowed an extra AR-15 assault rifle under his mattress.

“This is what we are up against,” lamented the mayor.

New Yorkers were already rattled. On January 9, Kristal Bayron-Nieves, 19, a Puerto Rican cashier at a Burger King in East Harlem, was shot and killed in a late-night robbery at the fast food eatery.

The number of people wounded by gunfire surged in New York City during the Covid-19 pandemic. Rates remain worryingly high there and in other cities across America.

A total of 488 people were murdered in New York last year. The death toll has been ticking up, but is still well below levels in the early 1990s, when the city averaged more than 2,000 killings annually.

Mr Adams has proposed tougher policing, more undercover officers, bigger payouts to tipsters and investment in technology, including facial recognition programmes and more surveillance cameras.

For New York state’s Governor Kathy Hochul, the problem extends beyond the skyscraper city of about 8.4 million people and is a “national crisis”.

“Ninety of the top 100 cities in America are seeing an escalation in gun violence cases,” Ms Hochul said recently in a call for greater co-operation among officials and law enforcement.

Chicago in 2021, for instance, saw its deadliest year in more than a quarter of a century, with more than 800 homicides, the vast majority of them through gunfire.

A study released last month by the Council on Criminal Justice research group showed murders in 22 American cities grew by 5 per cent last year — and 44 per cent above 2019 levels.

The rising crime rates, while still lower than in the early 1990s, have been linked to social disarray during the pandemic and the blowback on police departments after the killings of several unarmed black men by white police officers.

Mr Biden will discuss racism, guns and public anxiety with New York’s mayor, but must deal with a national problem that is at least in part borne out by crime statistics.

The president has called for better tracking of so-called ghost guns and other unregistered weapons. His administration has boosted federal funding for more beat officers and local anti-violence programmes.

Still, the perceived crime wave is a liability for the centrist Democrat, whose calls for tighter gun control do not buoy his popularity among many firearm owners — about 30 per cent of Americans, Pew Research reported.

Republicans lambast Mr Biden and his Democratic colleagues for a breakdown in law and order. New York’s issue, says right-wing columnist Jonathan Tobin, is the “leftist prosecutors who won't prosecute criminals”.

But the president must walk a fine line, as Democratic activists to his left see sweeping police reforms as the answer to what they see as institutionalised racism, even at times issuing radical calls to “defund the police”.

Updated: February 02, 2022, 9:07 PM