By Ariama C. Long
Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell came under fire after his comments in a press conference on Aug. 3 and calling for rollbacks to bail reform sparked heated debate among advocates and public officials.
Adams said that though arrests have increased and the police have taken thousands of guns off the streets, crime is still a problem because of the bail reform laws allowing people out of jail on bail. And that these people who get out tend to be recidivists, or a convicted criminal who’s a repeat offender.
“As a result of this insane, broken system, our recidivism rates have skyrocketed and those who say that the predicted wave of recidivism wouldn’t happen and the studies that claim to show that the rate of arrests for violent felonies has not changed since the reforms were passed, have one word for you, wrong,” said Adams. “You are wrong.”
The presser was held a few days after a shooting occurred at a McDonald’s in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn on Monday, Aug 1. McDonald’s employee Matthew Webb, 23, was shot in the neck, and later died, over a customer dispute regarding cold fries. The mother of 20-year-old Michael Morgan had reportedly argued with Webb over the quality of the food. Her son, Morgan, came to the restaurant and got into a fight with Webb outside before shooting him with a weapon his girlfriend, 18-year-old Camellia Dunlap, had in her possession.
Morgan has also been charged in a separate homicide from 2020.
Keechant said that recidivists cause New Yorkers to suffer needlessly. “Their efforts are increasingly aided by the fact that after the NYPD has arrested them, the criminal justice system fails to hold them appropriately accountable for their actions. These offenders face very few, if any, repercussions, despite committing crime after crime and the number of victims continues to go up,” said Keechant.
A week after the shooting, the Brooklyn-based McDonald’s remains busy with customers. Local residents recall frequent police presence outside the fast food joint, long before the killing. The NYPD confirms officers periodically visit the location during routine patrols.
This year the bail reform laws were changed specifically to make more low level ‘repeat offenders’ eligible for bail. Under the current law judges are not allowed to consider whether someone is a threat to public safety when deciding whether or not to hold them in custody. Adams maintained that he was not attacking the bail reform laws, but targeting a small group of violent repeat offenders or people who have multiple serious arrests that are “exploiting” the bail reforms. He said that judges are not using all the tools they have to determine if a person is “dangerous.”
However, criminal justice advocates, such as VOCAL-NY, and other officials condemned Adams for shifting blame for the spike in crime onto judges and prosecutors.
Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie said that the mayor’s calls to changes on bail reform “aren’t based on facts.” Myrie said that Adams keeps asking for a “vague dangerousness standard” that’s proven to worsen racial disparities in the justice system.
“Instead, we gave judges a clear set of objective criteria to consider when determining whether to set bail. But the loudest voices against reform will never be satisfied—there will always be someone or something else to blame for rising crime,” said Myrie.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement responding to the mayor that the Senate has taken steps to address these issues. “Especially his concerns regarding repeat offenders and gun offenses. We are always willing to work with the mayor and all our partners in local government,” said Stewart-Cousins.
Jon McFarlane, a leader with VOCAL-NY’s Civil Rights Union, accused Adams of fear-mongering and cherry-picking cases to justify more rollbacks to bail reform.
According to an analysis of the first six months of 2022 by the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), the NYPD has increased its “discriminatory broken windows practices” by arresting people for misdemeanors and felonies, such as fighting, fare evasion, fake licenses, petty larceny, mischief, weapon possession, and holding drugs. PROP finds that in 2022, “87.5% of misdemeanor arrests involved New Yorkers of color.”
“These are the police department’s own numbers, we don’t get them from the police department—we get them from another government agency, the Division of Criminal Justice Services but [these are] the department’s own numbers,” said PROP director Robert Gangi. “So if the numbers are showing that 87.5% of misdemeanor arrests are of New Yorkers of color, and some categories of arrest like a forged instrument and assault of [third degree], it’s 90% or more, those numbers tell us the NYPD is targeting certain populations.”
“Adams should look to his own failed pro-carceral policies in explaining the uptick in crime, while also stepping up to explain his silence with regard to officers leaving teenagers bloodied in the subway,” said McFarlane in a statement. “Instead of pulling out outlier cases to argue for tweaks to bail reform, Mayor Adams should invest in resources that will uplift the most marginalized communities dealing with an unprecedented rise in poverty, a collapsing infrastructure, substandard educational resources, and employment levels that are at its lowest in years.”
Still, it seems like the average New Yorker hasn’t drawn a hard and fast connection to bail reform and the rise in crime.
Across the street from the shooting at McDonald’s, Life Levi, 28, helps run his father’s shoe store called Fulton Cobbler. The store has been in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood for 22 years. He said that shootings don’t happen very often and there’s little violence outside of the occasional fight between adolescents at the McDonald’s. He thinks the shooting or a general rise in crime is “unrelated” to the shooting.
Ebonee Smith, 42, a teacher at Restoration Academy closeby, believes that the issues of overcrowded jails, lower education graduation rates, and a lack of jobs are definitely “interconnected” reasons that lead to a rise in crime but not bail reform.
“They end up in jail as children and still come out as children with not enough resources. And inmates come out and end up in homeless shelters so of course they’re going to commit crimes,” said Smith.
Smith added that Adams has only been in office for seven months and hasn’t been in office long enough to be effective.
Additional reporting contributed by reporter Tandy Lau.
Ariama C. Long and Tandy Lau are Report for America corps members and write about politics and public safety in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w