Mayor Eric Adams and New York City Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell update the media regarding the Sunset Park subway shooting. 1 Police Plaza, Manhattan. Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Photo credit: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

NYC Mayor Adams says solution to safer subways after Brooklyn shooter is metal detectors

6 mins read

Critical errors were made in the investigatory work in apprehending a suspect in the recent subway shooting, but cops are cited over citizens’ actions. Now Mayor Adams says high tech metal detectors will make New Yorkers feel safe.

Zack Dahhan, a Syrian immigrant who moved to the U.S. five years ago, busily installed security cameras at a store in East Village on Wednesday afternoon with his cousin Mohammad Cheikh. While looking through surveillance footage in real time, Dahhan noticed someone who resembled the Brooklyn subway shooter walking nearby. “I thought, ‘Oh shit, [this is] the guy,” recounted Dahhan.

Dahhan, who is fasting during his observance of Ramadan, said that the violent incident disturbed him so much, he could not sleep well; especially since the assailant had not been nabbed. But, when he noticed Frank Robert James, the main person of interest, walking outside that day smoking a cigarette, he sprung into action by calling the NYPD. Shortly thereafter, police stopped then detained James at St. Marks Place and First Avenue in Manhattan.

“This happened two blocks from my dorm,” an NYU student told Ark Republic. “It freaked me out that it was so close to school.” 

While Dahhan recalled his quick actions to New York resident, Samantha Zirkin, she ushered in praise. “Zack you’re a hero.” 

However, at Brooklyn’s police headquarters, the heroes looked quite different. As local press and community members gathered around Dahhan, who enthusiastically retold his story to a larger audience, a press conference held by city officials had another tone. “We got’em,” NYC’s Mayor Eric Adams announced stoically. But, the mayor failed to mention Dahhan. Rather, he commended the 30-hours of continuous police work of numerous local, state and federal law enforcement.

To add to the agency-lauding, Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said she was “truly fortunate” to stand with the multiple representatives of law enforcement agencies to announce James’ arrest. When it came to Dahhan during the NYPD press event, he was identified in a vague recognition by Commissioner Sewell as a “Crimestopper’s tip.”

Even Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), and a list of local officials gave kudos to law enforcement on Twitter. But people are asking, “What about Zack?” As it turns out, Dahhan was one of the five people who contacted the NYPD to provide credible information that resulted in Roberts’ arrest. The five split the $50,000 reward in capturing the main person of interest, plus several MTA workers were given city proclamations for their efforts in the day.

The stark contrast between who receives official praise versus who is mentioned in the liner notes of a law enforcement investigation, shows the fraught connection between the people and the police; and the divide as to whether to defund or not.

Mayor Eric Adams virtually thanks frontline heroes of the Sunset Park subway shooting with a Proclamation at City Hall on Friday, April 15, 2022. Photo credit: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

To serve and protect

As reports roll out, it reveals a number of egregious gaffs made by officials in the subway shooter case. On the day of the event, the officer who made it to the crime scene first carried a radio that did not work. Nor did any of the cameras at the subway stop properly function. Plus, police failed to alert MTA to stop the trains in enough time to prevent the perpetrator from fleeing. Added to the melee, initial details of the suspect described him with an orange reflective jacket when witnesses said he wore a green top.

For some, New York officials showed its inefficacy, and in particular, its waste of a $10 billion police budget. “[I]t was every day New Yorkers that were helping people that had been shot on the platform,” expressed New York public defender, Olayemi Olurin, on The Hill. “It was every day New Yorkers who caught bystander video to even get them a description. What did [police] do, here? This is a failure.”

Not only did the police exhibit a certain tone-deaf posture in their official account of the case, but there is a worry about future repercussions in policing. Recently, Mayor Eric Adams, who retired as a sergeant in the NYPD, dispatched hundreds of cops into subways to reduce crime with a Subway Safety Plan. Now, he plans to do more. 

Like Mayor Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) committed to upping the ante in policing after this incident. “My pledge to New Yorkers is this: I will fight every day to restore public safety, get guns off our streets, and prevent these horrific acts of violence,” she said in a statement. Prior to the James shooting, Gov. Hochul signed onto Mayor Adams’ safety plan.

Moreover, President Joe Biden supports both the mayor and the governor. In fact, the Biden Administration has stated repeatedly that police departments need more funding. Last November, the Department of Justice announced more than $139 million in grant funding in recruitment programs alone. All of which is the opposite of progressive Democrats and a reverberating cry during the George Floyd protests to defund the police.

Contrasting to the pro-police lean, there are many who criticize the performance of the NYPD in the Brooklyn subway shooter. With their failed attempts to catch James, the law enforcement agencies prove that surveillance and more cops does not equate to better public safety. 

“Eric Adams is using the Brooklyn subway shooting to add more police to the subways. [W]e already have 3500 cops in the subways and none could so much as identify the shooter let alone stop him,” tweeted Olurin. “There is an obvious disconnect between police presence and public safety.’

With the incident, it places more pressure on Black and Brown communities who have been profiled by police for years. Now Mayor Adams announced that metal detectors will be installed in stations using biometrics technology that will take a photo of potential suspects. Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the Gothamist that the plan is an “an illusion of safety and security at the very high cost of freedom.”

Blue Lives and Black Identity

On the other hand, others accuse the subway attackers’ assault and initial flee, as a result of a progressive push that ushers in tyranny. “Between the defund the police movement, bail law, ending broken windows policing, decriminalizing low-level crimes, we have attracted a criminal element in our city & New Yorkers are suffering,” argued Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) who insists these policing measures “need to be reversed to restore public safety.”

Even Mayor Adams, a pro-police, pro-big real estate mayor made a clear attack on a popular Black Lives Matter chant and idea to, “Defund the police.” Flipping the term when talking about city violence, he questioned. “Where are all those who stated ‘Black Lives Matter’?” Talking about a rash of gun violence that occurred on the Wednesday evening following the arrest of James, Mayor Adams furthered. “Do an analysis of who was killed or shot last night. I was up all night speaking to my commanders in the Bronx, in Brooklyn. The victims were Black.””

Another talking point emerging from the Right is tying James to Black Identity Extremism (BIE). James, who has a Youtube Channel where he voiced highly controversial, racialized opinions, was charged with a federal terrorism offense. Some say he should also be indicted for his expressed beliefs. Using the now discarded BIE classification, James has been described as racist and hateful.

During the Trump Administration, an FBI leaked document showed a report by the agency labeled, Black Identity Extremism, to describe a person of African descent who is more than likely to target law enforcement with acts of “premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence.”

According to the documents, Black people who are anti-authoritarian, espouse Moorish sovereign citizenship and hold violence against law enforcement as a justified act, all fall within BIE label. The document says that BIE peaked during the Civil Rights Movement and Black Liberation campaigns that formed thereafter. 

The intelligence report caused alarm throughout the community of activists and Congressional Black Caucus members. Disturbed by the report, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) held a congressional hearing examining the FBI’s new classification. At the hearing, civil rights attorney, Nana Gyamfi provided her opinion of the document:

“The FBI Black Identity Extremist classification is a dangerous and constitutional policy that puts black activists and organizers at serious risks of having our fundamental constitutional rights violated and our liberties … without a shred of competent evidence, the FBI, especially and erroneously asserts that black activists and organizers who protest or otherwise speak out against extradition murders of Black people by law enforcement are motivated by a dangerous extremism that they FBI has defined as a Black identity extremism.”

The problem is that James’ rants included harsh critiques about people of color, including Black folk such as Mayor Adams. Furthering, there is no mention of James’ history of possible mental health, and himself suffering from some form of homelessness. The absence of this assessment adds to Lieberman’s claim that Adams’ leadership still fails to address the social issues connected to the rise in crimes in the subway, but throughout NYC.

How the coming detectors will be manned in a system that runs for 24 hours has yet to be discussed. Yet, Adams assures that city goers will feel some sort of safety “when they swipe their MetroCards” with more police to check for weapons.

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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