By Tandy Lau
Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) gathered New York’s top Black leaders for a public safety summit behind closed doors in the organization’s Harlem offices last Thursday, Jan. 5. City politicians such as Mayor Eric Adams and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams were joined by state officials Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Attorney General Letitia James and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to discuss concerns of gun violence and policing.
The district attorney trio of Darcel Clark, Eric Gonzalez and Alvin Bragg was also present, albeit the latter joined remotely. NAACP’s Hazel Dukes was there, although most local Harlem leaders—elected or chosen—were not. With Speaker of the New York Assembly Carl Heastie and New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams also attending, Sharpton joked extensively about having multiple speakers present as the House of Representatives was struggling to elect just one. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, the leaders highlighted that the top brass, in the nation’s biggest city, is overwhelmingly Black.
“This is what our ancestors prayed for—is standing on this stage right now,” said Adams. “We’re going to live up to those prayers, those sacrifices, all the things they went through.”
“Never before in the history of this state have we seen so many of our top officials come from the Black community,” said Sharpton. “It was our idea that we would have those officials sit and discuss public safety and begin a series of conversations.”
The summit was also a demonstration of a united Black leadership for community public safety, an issue the attendees are often fractured over. Williams—who was not present at the press conference—has often questioned Adams’s handling of New Yorkers with serious mental illness and deployment of plainclothes anti-gun units during the mayor’s first year. Heastie and Stewart-Cousins rejected Adams’s call for a special state legislative session over bail reform last summer, reported Politico. Sharpton put it as “different hymns in the same hymn book.” He also emphasized that criminal justice reform has to be included in public safety conversations.
Little was shared beyond the optimism expressed by Sharpton, Adams and company. They opted to keep the discussions from the summit private and refused to respond to media questions. Adams vaguely described the conversations as unrestricted by “one issue” and focused on systemic poverty and racism.
“We will discuss them in private,” said James. “We will come forth with a plan. We will map out where the issues are. And we will join together as one.”
After the summit, Brooklyn D.A. Gonzalez told the Amsterdam News the summit was a big step forward for Black and brown New Yorkers.
“To have all this leadership in one place with the commitment to move this forward is going to be good for this city,” he said. “[It’s going to be] good for people who are concerned for their safety and are also worried about issues of unfairness in our criminal legal system.”
Meanwhile, the very next day, at an invitation-only City Hall late afternoon event, the mayor and Office of Ethnic and Community Media Executive Director José Bayona held an in-person media roundtable to discuss 2022 and topics related to the community.
At the packed Year End Ethnic and Community media roundtable, 30 or 40 members of the New York press were granted one question each. The session over-ran its allotted 45 minutes. Topics ranged from housing to health care, policing, education, the migrant crisis and immigration, and small business. Officials gave polite and standard responses as the assembled press asked their questions.
The Amsterdam News asked the mayor, now a year into his administration, about his message to and plan for the under-employed, unemployed youth who were no longer in school. “There’s about 250 thousand between the ages of 18 and 24 not in school, unemployed, not in any type of program,” Adams replied. “We have to go get them. The average person on the street—if we were to ask you, ‘Where do I go to get a job? Where do I go to get my son a job? Where do I go to get my daughter a job?’—there’s no central place of where to get a job. We’re changing that. My workforce development team [will] come up with one site … [to] be called New York City Jobs or whatever. It should be universal that no matter who you are, if you are someone with English as a second language…you know to say, ‘Go to New York City Jobs.’ If you’re a person who just came home from jail and you want to see some opportunities…’Go to New York City Jobs.’ We need a central depository of all the jobs that are available.
“We’re gonna do busses, we’re gonna do ads, we’re gonna do billboards,” Adams added. “There’s a disconnect between those who are looking for jobs and those who want to hire, so we’re gonna take the complexity out of it, and say, ‘If you’re looking for a job, here’s where you need to go as your starting point.’ Break it down for areas for jobs; what type of education you need. Some don’t need an education at all. It’s unbelievable when I sit down with business owners, large and small, and they tell me, ‘I’m looking for people to hire.’ It’s amazing.”
Adams offered an example: “We’re getting ready to open up the wind farm over in Central Park. We’re gonna need people to build these devices, to install them.”
It is not an official job-making strategy, but the mayor continued, “We need people to know there are jobs available in the city. We’ve got all these jobs for school safety agents. People are not aware of that. Do you know how many jobs we have in city government that people are not aware of? We need to have a central place [where] those who are not savvy can go to get a job, and right now, that doesn’t exist. We’re building that out right now—that’s my next meeting with my chief technology officer, to see some of the versions of it. We’re hoping to have that up and running by the end of February, because you’re right: We have got to get people employed.”
Additional reporting by Nayaba Arinde.
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.