Mayor Adams cited his own criminal history and ethnicity Wednesday as reasons for why he should be allowed to remain in charge of the city’s embattled jail system after Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor threatened to take that power away from him.
Adams, who’s the second Black mayor in New York history, made the case for keeping Rikers Island and other city jails under his purview one day after Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams’ office filed a letter in court threatening to put a federal receiver in charge of the facilities.
“We’re four months in, give me an opportunity. And why give me an opportunity? Because the people on Rikers, they look like me,” Adams said at an unrelated press conference in Brooklyn.
“Now you have a mayor who looks like the inmates in Rikers and you know what, I’m the only mayor in history who once sat in a jail cell when I was arrested as a child, so I know what they’re going through .”
Adams frequently brings up his arrest as a teenager on burglary charges as an experience that motivated to embark on a career in public service, first as a reform-minded NYPD officer and then as a lawmaker.
But Stan Germán, executive director of New York County Defender Services who has long been a proponent of placing Rikers under federal control, said Adams’ rhetoric rings hollow when contrasted against his public safety agenda.
“Mayor Adams can rebrand broken windows policing, rename anti-crime units, call for a racial bias ‘dangerousness’ standard in our bail statute and then hide behind his Blackness, but at the end of the day, this is a Giuliani-era approach to public safety that comes at the expense of poor Black and Brown New Yorkers,” Germán said. “Rikers Island must be placed into a Federal receivership now.”
The Tuesday letter from the Manhattan US Attorney’s office argued Rikers has been in a state of chaos for so long that a federal receivership may be the only viable option unless Adams and his correction commissioner, Louis Molina, commit to rapidly implementing sweeping reforms at the jail .
A receivership would effectively sideline Molina and allow a new court-appointed federal official to run the show at Rikers.
Among the feds’ laundry list of complaints is that Adams and Molina have not done enough to crack down on mass absenteeism in the Department of Correction ranks, fueling violence and disorder at the jail, where 16 inmates died last year.
For instance, the feds wrote, Molina has stonewalled some requests for information and blown off several meetings that were supposed to be held with Justice Department officials to discuss fixes..
Speaking at Wednesday’s press conference, Adams blamed an unspecified “communication problem” for his administration’s spotty interactions with the feds.
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“There was a communication problem. We’re going to rectify that,” he said. “But let’s be clear, and I said this yesterday, and I’m going to say it again: The crisis of Rikers did not start Jan. 1, 2022. The crisis with Rikers has been happening for decades.”