New York City Mayor Eric Adams is sticking beside the police department in the violent arrest of a Bronx teenager even though video evidence showed the officers involved lied about the details.
NYPD officer Taulant Gjonbalaj said the 16-year old’s hands were in his pockets when they approached him in January, and he ignored commands to remove them.
The confrontation led to a scuffle where the drill rapper, Camrin’ C Blu’ Williams and an officer were injured. Williams reportedly had an illegal gun in his pocket that accidentally went off, striking him in the groin and Officer Kasim Pennant in the leg.
A Bronx judge said Gjonbalaj’s recount was inconsistent with video footage of the encounter.
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Naita Semaj, in a March 8 ruling, said Williams had his hands up and cooperated with police. She said the video shows the gun went off as the officers grabbed the teenager’s sides, but he kept his hands up.
A former NYPD captain, Adams dodged direct questions about the ruling on March 8. However, two days later, at an unrelated press conference, the mayor said the officers involved should not be “demonized” for their actions.
He said the officers’ goals are to take illegal guns off the street and protect lives.
“I don’t believe those officers broke the law,” Adams said. “I think those officers were aware from a previous arrest of that young man, and there are steps to take to ensure you protect yourself and protect the public.”
Semaj said, however, the police had no grounds to search Williams. The New York Post reports the officers never mentioned the rapper’s prior history of gun charges.
“There was absolutely zero reason for any of those officers to approach this individual,” Semaj said. “They approached him, they detained him, they searched him, and no officer even bothered to come up with a halfway legitimate reason for any of that.”
The NYPD charged Williams with attempted murder, which was later reduced by prosecutors to assault and gun charges. The judge also redirected the teenager’s case from adult court to family court.
Adams has been adamant about cleaning up crime in New York City before elected the city’s second Black mayor in late 2021. He was part of the NYPD and New York City Transit Police for 22 years before retiring in 2006. He ran his campaign on increasing police presence.
One of the mayor’s campaign promises came to fruition on March 14. He reactivated the department’s special plainclothes unit that was involved in high-profile killings of Black men and infamous for the stop-and-frisk era. Critics of the plan said it sends the wrong message to police officers.
Hawk Newsome, co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM) of Greater New York, told Adams in November reinstating the units would lead to “riots, “fire” and “bloodshed.”
“If he thinks that they’re going to go back to the old ways of policing, then we are going to take to the streets again,” Newsome said during a November meeting at the Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Adams’ plainclothes unit will focus on illegal guns. He believes the units are needed as the city faces its third year of a crime wave. Data show major crimes in the five boroughs increased by 58% in February compared to the same time last year.
The new “neighborhood safety teams” will eventually consist of 400 officers. The New York Times reports the unit’s posts will include Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan; Melrose and Morrisania in the Bronx; East Flatbush and Canarsie in Brooklyn; and several parts of southeastern Queens.
NYPD Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said the officers in the unit went through extensive training and vetting and are required to wear body cameras. The officers must also wear modified uniforms instead of plain clothes.
“We actually had to take a look at the mistakes of the past,” Sewell said. “We’ve talked to the community and found out exactly what the changes are they’d like to see, what their concerns were in the past.”
According to reports, Adams has repeatedly said officers who break the law or act abusively would be expelled from the department. He has credited himself with rallying against the members of the previous installation of the unit who killed an unarmed Black man, Amadou Diallo.
Diallo was shot 41 times in 1999 as he was reaching for his wallet. The plainclothes units are also linked to the deaths of Eric Garner and Sean Bell.
A recent Marist College Institute for Public Opinion poll shows most New York City residents think the mayor is doing a good job running the city. The poll, released March 14, shows 61 percent of 891 residents surveyed by Marist College approved of the mayor.