Gun violence has rocked the first three weeks of Eric Adams' tenure as mayor of New York, piling pressure on the ex-cop to deliver on his promise to improve public safety in America's largest city.
A shooting Friday in the neighborhood of Harlem left one police officer dead and another in critical condition.
It was the latest flashpoint in the Democratic mayor's nascent rule, in which he has yet to present a comprehensive plan to rein in the crime he has decried.
"It is our city against the killers," said Adams, a retired police captain, on Friday night at Harlem Hospital, where the officers -- who had been responding to a domestic disturbance -- were taken following the incident.
The recent shootings also include a shocking incident in which an 11-month-old girl was hit in the cheek by a stray bullet in the Bronx as she was in a parked car with her mother.
They are seen as part of a broader trend of gun violence fueled by the accessibility of firearms, against the backdrop of the social and economic toll of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And they're testing the new mayor's tough-on-crime campaign message, while setting up a potential showdown with the left flank of his party over police funding and crime reduction strategies.
"This is a sea of crime that's been fed by many rivers. We have to dam each one of those rivers," Adams told CNN's "State of the Union" talk show Sunday.
"These crimes did not start during my administration," he added. "They have been here for far too long in many parts of our community."
Earlier, Adams urged federal action on gun control while calling on New Yorkers to work with the police to stem violence.
"No matter how painful this moment is, don't give up on these people in this city," he said Friday.
Adams, 61, has clashed with his leftist critics, many of whom are vocal online and have pushed to "defund" the New York Police Department, the nation's largest.
Now that call may be coming to a head as Adams, whose position on policing has long rankled New Yorkers on the left, prepares to negotiate a new city budget.
He said recently he would consider exempting the police force, with a budget exceeding $5 billion, from citywide cost-cutting measures.
It was not clear whether those details would be part of the "real plan" for the city Adams said Sunday he would roll out this week.
Politicians who use "defund the police" as a rallying cry appear unlikely to give any leeway to Adams, who has already aggravated progressives over issues including remote learning.
Kristin Richardson Jordan, a leftist city council member, won her Harlem district on a "defund" platform, which advocates replacing policing with alternative public safety systems.
She expressed sadness over the killing of the police officer Friday, but added: "To be clear, the death of police officers is not what abolition is. Abolition is an end to violence altogether."
Blueprint for safety
Last year, police recorded 488 homicides in the city of nine million people, up 4.3 percent from 2020 -- though Jeffrey Butts, director of the research and evaluation center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, points out that 25 years ago New York experienced four times the number of homicides it sees today.
While saying he disagrees with the notion of "defunding the police," Butts also told AFP "more police funding is not an appropriate response."
"How are those resources used? To what end? What's the strategy?" he said. "The foundation of our approach has to be economic well-being, health and the well-being of communities, which is a much broader public policy conversation."
Adriano Espaillat, a congressman whose district includes Harlem and parts of the Bronx, said Saturday "the federal government must play a pivotal role" in stemming the violence, citing a need for legislation mandating stronger background checks and accountability of gun manufacturers.
Ken Sherrill, a professor emeritus of political science at Hunter College, expressed surprise that Adams has not yet unveiled his pitch to tackle crime -- but said this is the moment to "mold public opinion."
"This hands the mayor an immense opportunity, and if he doesn't seize it I'm sure he will regret it," Sherrill told AFP.
Adams offered scant details about his upcoming public safety blueprint, but he said Sunday it would include the reinstitution of a "plainclothes anti-gun unit" and a bolstered police presence in the city's sprawling subway system.
But a top priority will be firearms: "We have to stop the flow of guns," Adams said.
Waving signs denouncing President Joe Biden and calling for "freedom," several thousand people demonstrated in Washington Sunday against what some described as the "tyranny" of Covid-19 vaccine mandates in the United States.
Speaker after speaker -- including notorious anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust -- took to the microphone in front of the white marble Lincoln Memorial to decry the rules.
Like other Covid restrictions aimed at reining in a disease that has infected more than 70 million people in the United States, killed more than 865,000 and brought much of daily life around the globe to a stuttering halt for two years and counting, vaccine mandates have become a deeply polarizing political issue.
"Mandates and freedoms don't mix, like oil and water," another speaker said.
"Breathe. Inhale God, exhale fear," exhorted yet another to applause from the crowd, made up of people of all ages, including children, and largely unmasked.
"I'm not anti-vaccine, but I'm anti this vaccine," Michelle, a 61-year-old physical therapist from Virginia who declined to give her last name, told AFP.
She said the messenger RNA serums developed by companies such as Pfizer and Moderna in record time were "too experimental" and "rushed."
The mRNA vaccines, given to millions of people around the world in the past year, have been proven safe and effective, as well as being hailed as potential gamechangers in modern medicine.
Michelle, who paused in the interview to sing the national anthem with other demonstrators, said she has a religious exemption from taking the vaccine -- but that to continue coming to work in Washington she has to get tested every week.
To her regret, her son, who initially had also resisted taking the vaccine, has now relented.
"He went and got it without me knowing -- so much peer pressure," she said.
'My body, my choice'
Another demonstrator, Therese is adamantly opposed to vaccines -- all vaccines.
She explained that she came by bus from Michigan, in the north of the country, to protest.
"Mandates are not appropriate... vaccines aren't working, we've been lied to about the vaccines," said the 61-year-old, who worked in a school cafeteria before her retirement and also refused to give her last name.
"And we should not be masking our children," she added.
"I talked to a couple of psychologists who say our children are suffering and they're depressed... It's terrible. We need our freedom back."
Further up the steps, the speakers -- including some people in white coats, presented as doctors from Texas -- continue to come and go.
"We are Americans and that's what we do, we fight tyranny!" claims another.
A few joggers, as if lost, walk through the crowd amid the signs proclaiming slogans such as "My body, my choice" or "God is our rock that will take down Goliath."
There are also many anti-Biden posters and a few flags bearing the name of his predecessor Donald Trump -- under whom the vaccines were developed and who has taken credit for them.
Isaac Six, 34, shrugged off the difficulty of being unvaccinated while in Washington, where proof of vaccination is now required to go to restaurants and other public places.
"It's OK, we're saving money," the 34-year-old charity worker said with a laugh.
Vaccines in general "are wonderful, they have helped millions of people," he added.
But mandating these vaccines, which like all vaccines are not 100 percent effective at preventing transmission, is "completely irrational," he argued.
What worries him are policies adopted "out of fear and panic" and "by one person."
"I would like to see more of the legislative process involved, the people that we elected to represent us be the ones to actually pass legislation," he said.
I had just finished an interview with Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon when I saw a clip of last night’s Tucker Carlson show. The segment was about Ukraine at the center of tensions between the US, NATO and Russia.
What is NATO and what is the purpose of NATO since the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago that NATO was designed to be a bulwark against. Well, no one can answer that question. Not one person. And yet the same people who cooked up the Iraq War are now insisting that Ukraine must join NATO anyway. That would mean putting American military hardware right on Russia’s border. Russia doesn’t want that anymore than we would want Russian missiles in Tijuana.
MSNBC talking head Malcolm Nance said it was a master class in “How to openly Broadcast for America’s enemies.” He said Carlson is playing the part of a Fifth Column – or as Merriam-Webster says, “a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders.”
“It is really bizarre, but unsurprising to hear Tucker Carlson repeating Russian state talking points that are over a decade old, St. Julian-Varnon said after I asked for a response to the Carlson clip.
“I've written about the connections between the alt-right and Russia. There is an echo chamber between the two that is terrifying,” she said.
She added: “The 180 turn from Republican views during the Cold War to accommodating Russian views on NATO is something to behold.”
St. Julian-Varnon is a PhD student and presidential fellow in the Department of History at Penn. Among other things, she studies African and African Diasporic racial identity in the former Soviet Union. I wanted to know more about the stakes of Ukrainian tensions.
She said the US and NATO allies could have responded more strongly after Russia, led by Vladimir Putin, took the Crimean peninsula.
They didn’t. And here we are now.
What's the status now with US-Russian relations over Ukraine?
Right now, the status is probably as tense as it has been since the 2014 Russian invasion of Crimea. Russia is seeking promises that the United States and NATO cannot and do not intend on making. Particularly, NATO not expanding to include Ukraine.
This has been a Russian point of contention throughout Putin's multiple presidencies. He sees NATO as an anti-Russian military alliance, and its expansion into Ukraine is, for him, a threat.
Why does Putin see it as a threat?
NATO was created as an anti-Soviet military alliance. Arguably, since Russia was not allowed to join NATO following the collapse of the USSR, it appears to Putin that it is an anti-Russian alliance.
The level of "threat" that NATO expansion means to Russia depends on Russia's goals. If the goal is to force Ukraine to remain in Russia's political, military and economic orbit, then it is a threat.
However, NATO expansion is not an existential nor military threat to Russia. Putin is using it to rationalize his behavior.
What would he have to gain by invading?
This is the question I've been thinking about the most.
Putin, if the Russian military can take and hold it, gains probably most of Eastern Ukraine, i.e., the Ukrainian territory east of Kyiv. He has stated multiple times that this is Novorossiya or Malorossiya, the names for Ukrainian territory during Imperial Russian history.
So, if we take Putin at his word, he seeks to recreate the greater Russian imperial territory on the western border of Russia by adding the Ukrainian east.
Putin does not recognize Ukraine as a sovereign state nor Ukrainians as non-Russian people. That’s clear from his public statements.
I also think Putin would see invasion, depending on the NATO and American responses, as a clear illustration of Russia's position as a global power (rather than a regional power, as western media and policy officials like to describe it).
More worrisome is if the west fails to support Ukraine in case of an invasion, there is a devastating lesson to be learned by smaller post-Soviet states. It is better to work with Russia than suffer like Ukraine.
Let's assume there is an invasion and there is a response from the US and its allies. What would that response look like?
I'm not sure, and it seems like American and western European leaders are not sure either.
Biden's "minor incursions" gaffe in his most recent speech about the tension in Ukraine showed no consensus on what to do, but it appears there are or will be levels of response based on Russia's actions.
I don't see American or NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine.
Most likely severe sanctions on Russia yet again. More targeted sanctions like those against four Ukrainian MPs with ties to Russia. Perhaps material and weapons support and aid. Maybe support for the Ukrainian domestic fighters against the invading Russian forces.
But I remember watching the crises in Crimea and Donetsk in real-time in 2014, and my hopes for a strong US response were dashed.
So a stronger response would be better?
I think so. The 2014 response did not prevent what we’re seeing now.
But I do not think Russia anticipates nor wants a full-on war, especially with any western forces. It doesn't make sense.
Constant destabilization of Ukraine makes it less likely Ukraine will be a viable candidate to join the EU or NATO.
Can you help us understand Russian politics?
I think it depends on what you see as defining Russian politics.
I'd argue that very little that Putin does is reflective of regular Russians who are still reeling from sanctions and rampant covid infections.
Putin has consolidated power such that the Duma wields little influence on major policy. Influence and money go hand-in-hand in Russian politics, but what is more damaging is the tight hold that Putin has on the media.
Russian state-controlled media serves as a microphone for the Kremlin, and it is incredibly difficult for any Russian independent media sources to remain open.
Meduza (though based in Latvia) has been deemed a foreign agent, Memorial has been shut down (it was an incredibly important archive that preserved the life histories of Soviet people, among other things).
Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church works as an instrument of the Kremlin. So you don't necessarily have an independent religious impulse in the largest church in the country.
And finally, elections, especially national elections, are a sham.
Opposition figures are constantly harassed and imprisoned, their offices raided. There is no open, functioning democracy in Russia.
Can you explain Putin's vision?
I think Putin's vision is to make Russia a world power again, in similar strength and influence to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.
The issues with his vision of Ukraine stems from an imperialist view on Ukraine as forever a part of and linked to Russia. This predates the Soviet Union and ties back to Imperial Russia.
But the vision isn't neo-Soviet per se. We don't see Putin trying to destabilize the Baltic states, but he has maintained close ties and influence with former Soviet states in Central Asia (Russian 'peacekeepers' in Kazakhstan during the protests for example).
Putin also wants to maintain absolute control over Russia. I think the portrayal of Putin as some omniscient, mastermind of evil is overblown. What Putin does understand and has understood for a long time, is realpolitik. Money, influence, hard power. Those influence his thinking and his behavior.
In a way, Putin's behavior in Ukraine is forcing the US, European Union, and NATO to publicly show how they think about and what they will do for the states of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc that want to become part of Europe.
Will the west allow Ukraine to join the EU or NATO? Will it use military support, if necessary in an invasion?
I think these are key issues for Putin because they have real meaning on the ground.
I do want Americans and western Europeans to understand that there are millions of lives at stake here in Ukraine. No invasion will be a minor incursion, it will cost lives and destroy communities.
For the sake of Ukraine, I hope the west understands this.