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Subway Attack Heightens Pressure on Mayor Adams to Combat Gun Violence

In his 10th and final media appearance of the morning, Mayor Eric Adams stuck to the day’s message: He can push to get guns off the streets and flood the subway with police officers, but there is only so much the city can do to stop someone who is determined to commit mayhem.

Then Mr. Adams, a former police captain, was thrown a curveball.

An anchor on Fox News asked the mayor on Wednesday what he would say to a young woman who said that she did not expect Mr. Adams to fix crime overnight, but she also did not expect it to get worse on his watch.

Mr. Adams said he understood the concerns.

“New Yorkers know that I have been talking about this, and they know that we need help from our federal, state and local governments,” he said. “Do you know we removed 1,800 guns off our streets in this city — just think about that — in the last three and a half months, and they keep coming.”

The mass subway shooting in Brooklyn on Tuesday put a harsh focus on New York’s continuing battle against crime, and underscored the challenges confronting the mayor. Major crimes have risen 42 percent since he took office in January compared to last year.

The perception of crime might be even worse than the reality after a series of high-profile violent crimes, including the killing of two police officers and the death of a woman who was pushed in front of a train at the Times Square subway station. A 12-year-old boy was killed recently in a parked car in Brooklyn, and an 11-month-old baby was shot in the face in the Bronx.

Mr. Adams has sought to frame the violence as part of a national rise in crime during the pandemic, and has blamed failures in the mental health system. But he has also said that he understands that his mayoralty will be judged on whether he delivers on his pledge to bring down crime.

The morning rush hour shooting in Sunset Park, which left 23 people injured, pointed to a public safety network with clear gaps.

Cameras in the subway station were not functioning. There was no officer in the station despite increased patrols. The suspect, Frank R. James, was at large for nearly 30 hours before being arrested on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Adams on Wednesday seemed to acknowledge the safety issues, but insisted that New York was no different than anywhere else in encountering gun violence, and that even so, the city and its subway were safe.

“Our recovery is depending on people feeling that our subway system is safe and reliable, and we must make sure that an incident like this is not a setback,” Mr. Adams said on Fox News.

“This is not only a New York City problem — this rage, this violence, these guns, these relentless shootings are an American problem,” he said. “It’s going to take all levels of government to solve it.”

New York City is far safer than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, as is the subway. There were 2,262 murders in the city in 1990 compared with 488 last year. Crime is also lower in New York right now than in many of the nation’s largest cities.

John Pfaff, a criminal law professor at Fordham University, said the mayor was right to focus on the national context and systemic issues at play.

“This is not something that has a simple solution, and lots of cities are struggling with this,” Mr. Pfaff said.

Still, Mr. Adams is among the first to concede that perception matters, and that many New Yorkers do not feel safe.

Mr. Adams is the city’s second Black mayor; the first, David N. Dinkins, also faced criticism over his crime strategy. The perception that he was not aggressive enough on crime contributed to his re-election loss in 1993 to Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“Black mayors are always held to a higher soft-on-crime standard,” said Christina Greer, a political science professor at Fordham University. “Adams is different because he presents himself as the working-class Black mayor who is a cop.”

Ms. Greer said that Mr. Adams should not be expected to fix crime immediately. But she added: “The patience will not last forever.”

Mr. Adams has focused on creating new anti-gun police units and on clearing homeless encampments while expanding a popular summer school program and youth jobs.

Last month, the Adams administration directed the police to enforce so-called quality-of-life matters, a throwback to the city’s embrace of “broken windows” policing — enforcement of low-level offenses in an effort to prevent more serious crimes.

Mr. Adams also pressed for changes to bail reform in Albany and said that state lawmakers must go farther than the changes they made in the recent state budget.

“Many of these people are repeat offenders, and it’s time for us to zero in and get serious about putting dangerous people in jail and not on our streets,” Mr. Adams said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday.

But the mayor has received criticism from left-leaning leaders who worry that Black and Latino young men will be disproportionately affected by the change in the state’s bail law, and targeted by the anti-gun units.

Susan Kang, a political scientist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said that the subway attack showed that having more officers visible in the city does not necessarily prevent crime.

“I think if you are someone who believes that more police leads to less crime, we’re not really seeing that result quickly,” she said.

Some members of the City Council have also criticized the mayor’s budget proposal for not doing enough to help the city’s most vulnerable residents. Carlina Rivera, chair of the Council’s Committee on Criminal Justice, said the subway shooting exemplified for many New Yorkers how rising crime is a “clear and present danger to both civil and civic life.” But Ms. Rivera supports a “new approach to fighting crime” and not a reliance on unproven tactics.

“We cannot go back to the Rudy Giuliani, Ray Kelly approach to stop and frisk,” she said in reference to the former police commissioner Raymond Kelly, who served under Mr. Dinkins and the former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Ms. Rivera said the mayor should focus on solutions like community-led violence intervention, affordable housing, employment, food security and health care access, and criticized his removal of homeless encampments.

“That’s how we can start cultivating real public safety for all New Yorkers,” she said.

But William Bratton, the city’s former police commissioner under Mr. Giuliani and Bill de Blasio, said in an interview that Mr. Adams was “the right man at the right time with the right ideas.”

Mr. Bratton encouraged New Yorkers to “give him time — he’s only been in office three months and he inherited an absolute mess.”

“If he doesn’t start to show progress by July, and particularly if crime keeps going up month after month, then he owns it,” Mr. Bratton said.

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