NYC Shooting Piles Pressure on Mayor Adams to Ease Worries Over Safety

NYC Shooting Piles Pressure on Mayor Adams to Ease Worries Over Safety

Tuesday’s morning-rush-hour attack at a Brooklyn subway station marks the 41st mass shooting in New York City since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, adding to the anxiety and public safety fears that have gripped the city in recent months.

Incidents of such magnitude -- at least 23 people were injured, including 10 with gunshot wounds -- aren’t common on the city’s subway system: The last major scare came in 2017 when a man detonated a pipe bomb in a Times Square subway station tunnel, injuring four. But a rise in a number of categories of crime has led to what Mayor Eric Adams has called a “perception of fear.”

Adding to the public concerns: Over the first three months of this year, there have been 291 shootings in the city, up from 252 over the same period last year, according to the New York City Police Department.

While the NYPD has identified a person of interest in the subway shooting, the shooter remains at large. Keys found at the scene of the attack belong to a U-Haul van rented by Frank R. James, 62, who has addresses in Philadelphia and Wisconsin, police said. Detectives were searching for James, who rented the van in Philadelphia, but didn’t know if he was the shooter.

NYC Shooting Piles Pressure on Mayor Adams to Ease Worries Over Safety

The latest incident has heightened anxiety in the biggest U.S. city at a time when Adams, a 20-plus year veteran of the NYPD, is trying to combat an uptick in crime and bring New Yorkers back to offices, subways, restaurants, bars and theaters. The mayor has made returning the Big Apple to its pre-pandemic vibrancy a priority of his first 100 days in office.

Adams has pledged to address some of the root causes of crime, like poverty and lack of housing and education, but he has focused his solutions so far on policing. He reinstituted a controversial plainclothes unit and put more cops in the subway system. Last month, the NYPD said it would more strictly police quality-of-life offenses that it says lead to crime and disorder.

NYC Shooting Piles Pressure on Mayor Adams to Ease Worries Over Safety

Since taking office in January, Adams made a point at showing up at crime scenes around the city at all times of night. However, he was unable to come to Brooklyn following the shooting because he was isolating following a positive Covid test.

“If I was not home with Covid, I would be on that subway system, because I believe you have to lead from the front,” Adams told CBS News on Tuesday.

‘American Problem’

At a press conference on Tuesday night, Adams sought to frame the violence as an “American problem” that plagued not only New York but the rest of the country. 

“Days like this are playing out too often in cities across America,” he said, tying the subway attack to other mass shootings in Orlando and Las Vegas. “It’s going to take an entire nation to speak out and push back.” 

Even the perception of a lack of public safety can hurt New York’s economic recovery and complicate Adams’s efforts, said Randy Peers, chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. 

“We want people to come back to the subway system, we want people to come back to public transit, we want people to come back to their offices and if they don’t feel safe then it is going to be a continuing challenge,” Peers said Tuesday on Bloomberg TV.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has struggled to restore subway ridership to pre-pandemic levels while crime and people seeking shelter in the system have increased. About 3.3 million people ride the subway during the weekday, down from an average 5.5 million in 2019, according to the MTA’s latest ridership data.

‘Uphill Struggle’

Former Police Commissioner William Bratton, who served under former mayors Bill de Blasio and Rudy Giuliani, said Adams’s challenge will be getting New Yorkers to trust his leadership on public safety. A heinous crime that terrorized commuters may complicate that effort.

“This can be done, but its going to be an uphill struggle unfortunately,” Bratton said Tuesday on Bloomberg TV.

Crime in the city has dropped over the past two decades to historic lows, but the pandemic brought increases in robberies, assaults and shootings.

In 2019 there were at least six mass shootings -- events where four or more people, not including the shooter, are injured or killed by gunfire -- in the city, according to the according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit data project. That figure more than tripled to 23 in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and stood at 17 in 2021. 

The other mass shooting this year left one person dead and three injured after a gunman opened fire at an early January party in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. 

On Tuesday, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said the city was “truly fortunate that this was not significantly worse than it is,” during a press briefing. During the subway shooting, she said the suspect opened two gas canisters before opening fire. Detectives at the crime scene uncovered a handgun, a hatchet, consumer grade fireworks and a hobby fuse, as well as extra magazines for the handgun.

“Clearly this individual boarded the train and was intent on violence,” Sewell said.

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