Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright speaks at NYC Criminal Justic Summit this past weekend Credit: Diane Bondareff/Mayoral Photography Office

Not quite the Batman signal in the sky, but a crime-fighting call was put out, and Gotham City stakeholders went to the Criminal Justice Summit at Gracie Mansion. This past weekend for two days, they came—from law enforcers from all New York City branches, to violence interrupters and Cure Violence members from the five crime-weary boroughs, to activists with solutions. Mayor Eric Adams asked for the major players in the NYC public safety world to come together to discuss the city’s criminal justice system. They did.

But then on Monday afternoon, a 70-year-old was shot in the thigh by a stray bullet outside a supermarket on Fulton Street in Bed Stuy. A few hours later, a pregnant 19-year-old woman was shot in the leg in Washington Heights. The next day, a 14-year-old boy was shot outside Tottenville High School, Staten Island. 

It is this onslaught of crime in the city the summit was called on to address. The attendees included judges, advocates, prosecutors and civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel. Unfortunately, everything went down behind closed doors, although Adams later hopped on a teleconference Sunday to shed some light on the summit.

“We walked away with a number of things, but two areas really stood out to me,” he said. “Our focus must move to a place on justice, not simply winning, but how do we ensure that people are able to get the justice they deserve in a fair manner without clogging up or bottlenecking the criminal justice system.

“We also want to be clear. Any time we engage in this conversation around the criminal justice system people highlight one term and that is bail reform. There are so many other aspects of the criminal justice system that we were able to talk through and discuss, and we were extremely pleased with the conversations that we had.”

Adams added his goal was to find common ground. One participant, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke, told the NY Amsterdam News the event was a success in her eyes.

“It was a productive meeting,” said Clarke. “I applaud the opportunity to have all the criminal justice stakeholders together in one room, and it helped immensely. We found agreement on a few issues, including an understanding that we all want the same thing, a safe city and a fair criminal justice system. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can work together to develop strategies that lead to a reduction in crime, build community trust and promote safety.”

When asked about action items, Adams mentioned modernizing court systems, with more centralized hubs for information and discovery, as well as reducing the arduous time spent by defense lawyers and prosecutors “for just a 30 second appearance in front of a judge.” His chief counsel, Brendan McGuire, added the desire to develop more immediate mental health resources for those in the criminal justice system.

“There’s some successful models on that,” he said. “And so one model there is, which has been one phrase that has been used, is a ‘Care Van’ where you have resources outside, mobile resources outside of a courthouse where [immediate] treatment and other options can be provided to those who need it.”

Adams credited Siegel for inspiring the summit and helping him assemble such a cast. The renowned attorney, who is a past contributor to the Amsterdam News, served as the New York Civil Liberties Union’s executive director between 1985-2000. The Mayor’s Office wasn’t shy to name-drop his past role in the initial announcement. But Siegel’s former employer distanced itself from his participation in the summit and stated concerns with the Adams administration’s handling of policing and criminalization, according to an NYCLU spokesperson. 

Public safety continues to concern New Yorkers, especially given a recent surge in major index crimes like robbery, burglary and grand larceny. According to NYPD statistics, violent crime is down as of late, but high-profile incidents keep the city on alert. 

“Crime is up 40 percent,” Brooklyn’s Charles Barron told the Amsterdam News. “The police department have an $11 billion budget, and a $85 million overtime budget. They brought back another version of the Street Crimes Unit, but crime was down in 2021 without it. The issue is poverty. We need the mayor to create a multi-billion dollar anti-poverty policy which includes jobs, housing and mental health.”

A day after the summit the typical Monday bustle in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn was violently disrupted when two young men started arguing and shooting. A 70-year-old woman was shot in the thigh outside Super FoodTown. Shocked onlookers voiced their horror and their disgust, as  investigators swamped the neighborhood, put up yellow police tape, canvassed the stunned observers and business owners, and released a video of two suspects. No one had been caught by press time. A few hours later across the city a 19-year-old 8-month pregnant woman was shot in the leg sitting in a car in Washington Heights. The next day as school was letting out, a 14-year-old boy was shot outside Tottenville High School, Staten Island. Thankfully none of the above injuries were life threatening, but the torment of New Yorkers is that this steady wave of violence is ongoing.

“We’ve been round this block too many times before,” said activist A.T. Mitchell. Mitchell, Mayor Adams’ NYC gun violence prevention czar, has spent decades fighting gun violence in Brooklyn and nationwide and internationally. “Unfortunately these sporadic shootings are part of this disease which is raising its ugly head. We as a city are trying to get ahead of it. There are too many guns making their way into the inner city, and getting into the hands of people making bad choices and the wrong decisions. No one is exempt or immune to this violence sadly.”

Last week Mayor Adams told the Amsterdam News that media focus and front page headlines are creating a more dangerous Gotham perception than the actual Big Apple reality. 

“We’re fighting a perception issue,” Adams said.“On average we have less than six felony crimes a day…On our subway system, we have 3.5 million riders a day. For the most part, your ride is uneventful, you’re not a victim of a crime.”

He insisted, “We have a greater presence of police that are riding trains visibly present.”

Police officers were in the station duringing at least two of the violent incidents.

“The statistics may show no significant or discernable pattern of increased violence; however, safety has always been about perception,” Marq Claxton, director, Black Law Enforcement Alliance, told the AmNews. “As is the case in New York, the government has to account for the perception and use the meta-data to develop effective anti-violence strategies that provide immediate relief. This trend of violence feels different. It feels closer and more arbitrary. Many hardened New Yorkers are expressing feelings of increased physical vulnerability. Many socio-economic factors lead to increased violence and re-socializing after a pandemic presents challenges, but New Yorkers’ patience with more progressive initiatives and programs is becoming thinner. What has increased the level of anxiety is that many of these victims are the most vulnerable, the very young and the very old. If the children and elders are falling victims to violence, the sense is that no one is truly safe.” 

“We are working tirelessly to confront this public health crisis. That is what the two-day Criminal Justice Summit at Gracie Mansion was about this past weekend,” said Mitchell, who is also CEO and co-founder of the community advocacy organization Man Up, Inc. “We are working around the clock, putting our heads together from different branches of government, community-based groups, civil liberties and rights organizations—to try and figure out this epidemic.”

Asked if the weekend justice summit was more than just an exercise in getting together, Mitchell seemed to be pleasantly surprised about the contents of the gathering,

“It was very refreshing seeing all these people from different walks of life and professions; some on the opposite sides, coming together on the common goal of increasing public safety.”

“Murders and shootings are down compared to the national average,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said this past weekend. 

But with shootings and stabbings up this year, and with 23 people pushed onto the tracks and nine people killed in the subway system, this weekend Adams, Hochul, and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell announced that they will be flooding the MTA subway system with hundreds of visible cops.

Communities United for Police Reform spokesperson Sala Cyril said that Black and brown New Yorkers “know all too well that the mayor and governor’s surveillance and broken windows policing tactics do not keep our communities safe. Spending more resources to inundate our subway system with police will not address violence in our subways—it will only lead to increased criminalization and harassment of New Yorkers who the mayor and governor claim to be protecting.”

Cyril added, “Solutions to address violence in our subways and throughout the city will come from investing in our communities and addressing the long-term systemic needs of our city. New Yorkers need resources put into our crumbling subway infrastructure to ensure we have better, more accessible, and frequent transportation service.  The mayor and governor must invest in creating affordable, permanent housing to ensure all New Yorkers have access to safe places to live with dignity, and invest in comprehensive, accessible mental health services.”

Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://bit.ly/amnews1

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