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NYC Mayor Adams Makes Live Appearance on MSNBC’s ‘PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton’; Inquiries Arise Regarding Student Anti-Semitic Protests at Columbia University

Reverend Al Sharpton: We’re joined now by a man who will be at the center of all this week’s drama, New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat. Mr. Mayor, let me start with, first of all, thank you for joining us. We want to start tonight with last week’s arrest of more than 100 demonstrators at Columbia University here in Manhattan. As student on-campus protests of the war in Gaza continues, the university has said they won’t bring NYPD back on campus again, and so far there have been no arrests this weekend. You’ve attributed some of the unrest to outside agitators stirring things up. Where do things stand between the school, the city, and the students right now?

Mayor Eric Adams: It’s so important, Rev, that we’re clear. We do not go on college campuses until college administrators ask us to do so. Once that request is made, you want to do it with the minimum amount of force, because you are talking about young people and you’re not trying to in any way jeopardize their safety. As of this time, Columbia University stated that they want to sit down and speak with the students and the other college campuses as well, and we’re not going to do anything unless the college campuses request such.

Reverend Sharpton: The issue that troubles some of us, me included, is the issue of free speech and the issue of students having the right to stand up. Frankly, those original demonstrations I agree with, in terms of dealing with what’s going on in Gaza, people starving, people that are innocent being harmed. As I was against the attacks on Israel on October 7th.

Let’s move to the criticism many have made, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez accused NYPD of sending in a controversial police unit, which she called a counter-terror unit, to clear out the Columbia encampment. Now this unit developed a reputation for violence during the George Floyd protests, which I was involved in, and I have a problem with the unit. Here in the city, this happened just four years ago. Last week when several demonstrators were arrested at a rally to end the U.S. funding of Israel’s military, we saw reports that NYPD officers struggled to transport those demonstrators using New York City buses because city bus drivers refused to do so. 

It seems to me that many — as I’ve been arrested. I would have went to the encampment if it was against Netanyahu but I don’t believe in violence and kill the Jews or any of that. I think most of the students have said they don’t. What’s your response to criticism on how all this is being handled? We all want to make sure antisemitism and violence is not tolerated. Are you confident that demonstrators’ free speech rights are being protected? I know even at our convention, a congressman was heckled. I thought they were Trump supporters because they had no signs. I would say yes, eject people that don’t want a dialogue. But to use forces like they’re terrorists, these students are not terrorists.

Mayor Adams: No, they’re not. I say over and over again, I know what it is to protest. I’ve protested. I protested… 

Reverend Sharpton: I’ve been with you. 

Mayor Adams: …from the days of the Apartheid dismantling through others. I marched also with George Floyd. I was part of many of those marches. And a tool could be abused. When you send in a Strategic Enforcement unit, it’s because it’s an assessment of what you’re dealing with. We first went in with Community Affairs officers who have on windbreakers jackets to try to communicate with the students and give a substantial amount of time for them to disperse based on what the school stated. 

When you look at what happened at one school, NYU, an example, bottles were thrown, chairs were thrown. You look at the helmet of one officer that was dented. Our goal is you don’t want to put the lives of those officers or students in jeopardy. You want to use the minimum amount of force and equipment to carry out the execution.

Reverend Sharpton: I think some of the students have said they’re not for violence. They’re not for the hate speech. You know in the late 80s, I left a group because they said we don’t want whites at rallies anymore. That’s when I started National Action Network. You were one of them to help me to do it. At the same time, we should stand up for what is right for people in Gaza and in Israel. I just wanted to clear that where we are now. 

Let’s turn to the city budget. You have until July 1st to work out a plan with the New York City Council. Your latest proposal reverses cuts to schools, police, fire, and sanitation. But controversial cuts to the city’s public libraries remain. Then there’s the impact of the migrant crisis on your city, which has been an additional strain on its resources. How much of the $112 billion budget goes towards that crisis? What do you say to critics who say you are giving priority to police and public safety over libraries, education, and social services?

Mayor Adams: First, I think the real story that has yet to be told is the story of the first African American woman to be speaker and the second African American mayor. We’ve landed two budgets. We would debate on the issues and the topics, but then we come together and shake hands on the time to execute a budget. We’ve navigated the city out of Covid. We’ve navigated a 40 percent increase in crime when we first took office, and we were able to put in place real initiatives that dealt with working-class people. It’s been lost in some of the narrative but hats off to what Speaker Adrienne Adams and this administration has been able to accomplish. 

When you look at this budget now, we were able to look at 191,000 migrants and asylum seekers, $4 billion in our budget, then fiscal cliffs that the previous administration was funding permanent programs with temporary dollars that sunsetted this year. We had to look at all of those things that come with a budget, and so those who state that we put public safety or police first, I’ll take that criticism because we have to be safe. I stated from the time I was running, the prerequisite to our prosperity is public safety, and we’re going to have the right handle on how to keep the city safe.

Reverend Sharpton: In these negotiations around the budget, you’re not ruling out taking care of some of what is so far in negotiations, libraries and others, that seems to be cut? The Black woman you’re talking about, Adrienne Adams, so you’re saying a lot of this is a process? It’s in the process?

Mayor Adams: It’s in the process. When people do an analysis of the budget, the only critique they walk away with is, how come you guys didn’t finally deal with the library issue? When you look at all the other issues we have in the city, including pre-K, including Summer Rising, including the restoration of all of those initiatives, if that’s the only critique we have while we go into the final negotiation, I’ll take that critique. We did not decide the libraries should be closed on Saturday and Sundays. The libraries decided that. We told them they must find savings, and that was the area they wanted to find savings in.

Reverend Sharpton: Yes, but you know advocates, we’re going to be advocates. I want to see the libraries stay open. With that, mayor, as your budget gets examined, a new economic report by the city found that Black unemployment decreased from 10.7 percent to 7.9 percent since you took office and Black New Yorkers are now 2.4 times more likely to be unemployed than whites, down from four times more likely in January of 2023. Put that into perspective for non-New Yorkers watching right now, because this could be instructive for cities around the country.

Mayor Adams: I inherited a crisis around Black unemployment and people of color unemployment in this city. We knew we could not continue to stay in this sterilized environment of City Hall to solve the problem. We went out and did things called hiring halls, where we went into those communities and encouraged people to look at employment. Then we also had to look at some of those areas where people who had made poor decisions as young people, they were permanently locked out of employment. We zeroed in on that justice-involved youth. We zeroed in on our foster care children. We looked at all of those pathways that fed the sea of unemployment, and we said we’re going to dam each one of those rivers. That’s what you’re seeing, the results of it. We have just started. We’re going to turn around these numbers, even from the 4.7 percent as well. 

Reverend Sharpton: That takes focus, concentrated effort. 

Mayor Adams: Listen, commendable to what you and the team of clergy leaders pointed it out earlier sometime last year. We were zeroed-focus on it. I think that critique really helped us stay focused on the importance of dealing with Black unemployment in our city and what we’re facing across the nation. But we’re getting it right here in the city.

Reverend Sharpton: Yes, and I think a lot of us in the clergy and in the civil rights community are very concerned about that, as we are about what continues to happen in Gaza and Haiti. You have stood up on the Haiti question that I don’t think is talked enough about Sudan and others. 

Before I let you go, mayor, I had the honor of joining Bishop Herbert Daughtry in re-baptizing you last month at a Good Friday ceremony at Rikers Island along with a group of incarcerated men. Can you talk a little about why you chose that setting? Because you texted me and said, you want to get re-baptized, but I want to do it at Rikers Island. I don’t know that people around the country understood this was no stunt. Why did you want to do this? Why did we do it? And what did we do?

Mayor Adams: I’m a child of God. I have been baptized for over 40-something years. I could have gone to any church in the city to be re-baptized, but I wanted to go to Rikers Island. I wanted to be among those men. There were a group of men who also got baptized that day for the first time. And Reverend Daughtry brought me into the movement with National Black United Front and many people know our relationship of over 30-something years from the day of NAN and even beyond that. 

I thought that being mayor is not only substantive, it’s symbolism. I wanted those young men on Rikers Island to see I am them. My imperfections in life does not mean that where they are is who they are. By being there with them, I want young men all across the country who are now incarcerated to know you can be free if you set yourself free mentally.

Reverend Sharpton: You even said at the baptism to those young men that you had been arrested once, young, and now you’re the mayor of New York. Did you want a message to them that don’t let certain things in life, justified or unjustified, because many are arrested unjustified, but don’t let it stop you? Let it spur you or encourage you toward doing positive things and reaching in your inner self and being who you could be?

Mayor Adams: Yes. I say the quote all the time. Many people know about my learning disabilities. I tell them, listen, I’m dyslexic. I was arrested. I was rejected. Now I’m elected to be the mayor of the most important city on the globe. They, too, can go from where they are to become who they are.

Reverend Sharpton: I’ll leave it there. Thank you very much, Mayor Eric Adams, for coming in and doing this in person.

April 28, 2024 New York City Hall

“PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton” is a political talk show hosted by Al Sharpton, airing on MSNBC. It provides commentary and analysis on current political affairs in the United States.

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