Eric Adams was Right to Hire His Brother as Chief of Security
Adams understands that even a pro-cop mayor isn’t necessarily safe from the NYPD. That’s a lesson the left would do well to remember.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams closed out the first week of his term with a Friday news dump announcing that he’d tapped his brother Bernard, a retired police sergeant, for a deputy commissioner gig at the NYPD. Bernard was to lead the unit tasked with protecting the mayor and other high-profile officials, drawing an annual salary of $240,000. The allegations of nepotism came fast and furious from all quarters of the press, not to mention progressive activists. Ross Barkan captured the spirit of this criticism in a piece published last week on his Substack:
“The choice is brazen and ludicrous; even de Blasio, who was eager to include his family in his government, knew he could not legally pay his wife for the work she did at City Hall.
What’s notable here is that the appearance of conflict doesn’t bother Adams at all. ‘Let me be clear on this: My brother is qualified for the position. Number one, he will be in charge of my security, which is extremely important to me at a time when we see an increase in white supremacy and hate crimes,’ Adams said on CNN Sunday…Later, he said his brother Bernard would be needed to safeguard him against ‘anarchists.’
As a Black politician in a time of racial reckoning, with liberal white guilt fueling dramatic, identity-driven overhauls of media, education, and corporate America, it may be advantageous for him to invoke ‘white supremacy’ whenever the critics get too loud.”
In response to the backlash, Adams settled for giving his brother a more limited role dealing exclusively with mayoral security - a decision now under review by the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. This did little to quell the fracas in the media, and led some to remark that Adams felt entitled to his own praetorian guard. This analogy came up again a few days later when NBC reported that Adams’ team had made inquiries about the legality of arming and deputizing civilians to act as the mayor’s security detail, in place of the NYPD officers who traditionally serve this function.
Adams’ critics take it for granted that his professed concern for his safety is just a pretext for enriching his family on the government dime. Barkan in particular dismisses his warnings about the threat of racial violence as a cynical maneuver to silence detractors by exploiting their white liberal guilt. But just because you’re cynical doesn’t mean they’re not really out to get you. Adams is being disingenuous, but not about the threats to his life and well-being. Rather, he’s being coy about where he thinks the threats may come from. It isn’t anarchists or left-wing protesters that worry him, it’s the NYPD. And considering that Adams had a front row seat to the police riot at City Hall in September 1992, he has good reason to be concerned.
In 1989, New York elected David Dinkins as the first black mayor in city history. In the Democratic primary, Dinkins rallied a coalition that included most black and Hispanic voters and a sizable contingent of liberal whites around a vision of clean, inclusive government and more harmonious race relations. The party faithful were disillusioned with the three-term incumbent Ed Koch over his mounting corruption scandals and increasingly sour disposition. He had alienated black voters in particular with his rhetoric during the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, when he excoriated Jesse Jackson with an intensity that many viewed as racist. In this context, Dinkins’ positive agenda was an attractive alternative in the mayoral primary a year later.
It even carried the day in the general election against Republican nominee Rudy Giuliani, though by a far narrower margin than many predicted. Polls taken in the final stretch of the race showed Dinkins ahead by double digits, but in the end he prevailed by less than three percent. Exit polls showed that the fusillade of nasty, personal attacks deployed by Giuliani finally paid off when late deciders began breaking against Dinkins. The substance of these attacks were allegations of financial impropriety, and a significant number of Democratic voters cited this issue as the reason they defected to the Republican. But everyone knew that more unseemly factors were also at work.
Exit polls showed extreme racial polarization among the electorate. While Dinkins won 90 percent of black voters and 70 percent of Hispanic voters, 70 percent of whites went for Giuliani. But revealing nuances were apparent within the white electorate as well. While Dinkins notched a third of the vote among Jewish New Yorkers, he got less than one-fifth of the vote among white Catholics - the social base of the NYPD. These voters were always going to favor Giuliani, but his campaign deliberately inflamed racial tensions to make sure his margin was as wide as possible.
In the last days of the race, Giuliani aired an ad that showed footage of a Dinkins campaign staffer, the black activist Sonny Carson, leading a raucous demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge in response to the murder of Yusef Hawkins. Hawkins was a black teenager who was beaten with baseball bats and then shot to death by a group of white youths in Bensonhurst - an ethnic Italian enclave in Brooklyn - two months before Election Day. The ad featured photos of police officers injured during the protest and made reference to Carson’s criminal record. The message was unmistakable: this mob of black thugs is on its way to City Hall, and we better get there first.
The white reactionary consensus that Dinkins was pro-criminal and anti-cop only deepened with time. In August 1991, the motorcade of a high-profile Jewish leader in Crown Heights, Brooklyn struck two black children, killing one and gravely wounding the other. The accident set off three days of riots that saw black residents vandalize Jewish property and loot Jewish homes and businesses in reprisal. Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish doctoral student, was murdered by a black assailant on the first night of the riots. Over 2,000 police officers were deployed to quell the unrest, and more than 150 of them were injured.
Many New Yorkers felt Dinkins had been slow to summon the full force of the NYPD to contain the violence. A smaller but vocal segment accused him of instigating it in the first place with his alleged sympathy for black radical elements and supposed hostility toward law enforcement. For his loudest critics, the fact that Dinkins had pioneered the largest expansion of the NYPD in history - financed through a special funding package he negotiated with Albany and deep cuts to other municipal services - was immaterial. What they really objected to was his presence in Gracie Mansion. That became clear the following year, when the NYPD staged a race riot of its own.
In June 1992, Dinkins debuted a proposal for an all-civilian board to investigate accusations of police misconduct. At the time, membership of the panel tasked with this responsibility was evenly split between civilians and officers. The move infuriated the NYPD, which saw it as another stage of the mayor’s imagined campaign of anti-cop persecution. In September, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association - the city’s police union - called a protest at City Hall, and the rage that had been simmering for years over New York’s first black mayor erupted into the streets of Lower Manhattan. From the New York Times:
“Thousands of off-duty police officers thronged around City Hall yesterday, swarming through police barricades to rally on the steps of the hall and blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge for nearly an hour in the most unruly and angry police demonstration in recent memory.
The 300 uniformed officers who were supposed to control the crowd did little or nothing to stop the protesters from jumping barricades, tramping on automobiles, mobbing the steps of City Hall or taking over the bridge. In some cases, the on-duty officers encouraged the protesters.
While about 6,000 officers participated in a peaceful rally on Murray Street, more than 4,000 swarmed over police barricades, blocked the entry to City Hall and later marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge…Neither the leadership of the P.B.A. nor senior officers of the department were able to control them.
In a retrospective published last October in New York Magazine, Laura Nahamias interviewed a number of people who were at City Hall on the day of the riot. These included Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, the highest ranking government official on the premises, and Bob Liff, a local journalist. Dinkins was uptown attending a funeral, and not on site to see the officers carrying signs with racist cartoon renderings of him, or hear the chants of “Dinkins gotta go!” and “The mayor’s on crack!” Steisel and Liff described the chilling atmosphere inside the building as the situation deteriorated:
“The demonstration began to spiral out of control, amplified by officers drinking at the pubs on Murray Street…Acting Police Commissioner Ray Kelly dispatched a phalanx of officers to City Hall for crowd control.
A group of officers lined up in front of the doors to City Hall. At one point, they let a woman attending the protest, who may have been the widow of a fallen officer, inside. ‘Someone yelled that they had arrested her and the mob of officers outside rushed the building,’ remembered Bob Liff, a former City Hall reporter at Newsday who was inside the building at the time.
‘In all my years there…it is the only time I ever remember the cops slamming the doors shut and putting the bars across the doors to keep anyone from getting in,’ Liff said. ‘It is also the only time I remember feeling any sense of fear inside City Hall.’”
Before things devolved into anarchy, a number of speakers had addressed the crowd gathering on Murray Street to express their support. One of them was Rudy Giuliani, who whipped them into a frenzy with an expletive-laden tirade that previewed his challenge to Dinkins in the mayoral election of 1993. Giuliani’s victory ushered in 20 years of Republican rule in New York City, due in no small part to the popularity of his tough-on-crime agenda. But even at the height of their power, America's mayor and the NYPD still had their fair share of critics. Few were more critical than Eric Adams.
Eric Adams joined the NYPD in 1984, graduating from the police academy with the highest marks in his class. After suffering a brutal assault at the hands of two white cops when he was 15 years old - and being saved by the intervention of a black officer - Adams resolved to join the department and transform its culture from the inside. By September 1992, Adams was a lieutenant and chairman of the Grand Council of Guardians, a fraternal organization for black officers. On the day of the riot, he arrived downtown after violence had already broken out. Nahamias spoke with Adams about his reflections on that day for New York Magazine:
“‘We have been saying for years that the police department is comprised of racist Long Islanders who come into the city by day and leave at night with their arrogant attitudes and believing they are above the law,’ Adams told newspaper reporters right after the riot. ‘Well, finally, the entire city was able to see what we’ve been talking about.’
Adams also told Newsday that the riot was ‘right out of the 1950s: a drunk, racist lynch mob storming City Hall and coming in here to get themselves a n - - - - -.’
Adams remembers he chose those words carefully.
The City Hall riot ‘should be part of the historical narrative of these types of drunken lynch mobs,’ Adams said. He said police participation in the riot wasn’t counterintuitive because in the American history of lynch mobs, ‘many of them were being led in the South by sheriff’s marshals and other lawmakers.’”
If the idea of Eric Adams, Critical Race Theorist surprises you, that’s because you only know him through his tweets. In fact, Adams built a career on his reputation as a crusader against racism within the NYPD. His confrontational style and penchant for taking his grievances to the press earned him powerful enemies inside the department. Between 1984 and 2006, Adams was investigated on four separate occasions by internal affairs. In one case, the department surveilled him for nearly a year, physically tailing him and pulling his phone records in total secrecy. Its actions were so egregious that even the PBA publicly condemned them, and Adams sued the NYPD in federal court for violating his civil rights.
By his own account, Adams narrowly escaped far darker consequences. In an interview with the City early last year, Adams spoke for the first time about an incident in 1996 when an unidentified motorist pulled up beside him as he idled at a stoplight late one night, called his name, and pointed a gun at him. Adams slammed on the accelerator and the bullet shattered the rear driver-side window as he sped away. Adams never found out who fired that shot, but he always suspected it had been a fellow officer. The shooting occurred at the height of his conflict with the department, when he was the target of routine threats and harassment from colleagues. “When I look back, I’m amazed I was able to get out of the department alive,” Adams recalled.
Contrary to what his critics charge, Adams has always understood what the NYPD is: a well-armed, semi-autonomous militia with only a loose relationship to other organs of the state. Where Adams breaks with the left is in his conclusion that despite that fact, the police still perform a critical social function; and in his conviction that with the right leadership, the department could aspire to something more. And given the left’s reaction to his decision to hire his brother as chief of security, Adams breaks with them on another important point: how a mayor that understands what the NYPD is should relate to it.
Adams saw firsthand that having your name on the door at City Hall is no guarantee that the cops will protect you. David Dinkins learned that swelling their ranks and showering them with cash isn’t a sure thing either. It’s perfectly sensible for New York’s second black mayor to entrust his security to blood relatives and lifetime confidantes only, considering what almost happened to the first. The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board should let Adams do it, and if it rules against him, he should ignore it - as other mayors have done in the past. If New York ever elects someone committed to even deeper reforms to the NYPD - or as some on the left advocate, its abolition - it will be an important precedent to draw on.