Two very well known New Yorkers ran for mayor this year, both deeply rooted in the history of this city, and particularly in the history of its public safety policies. Eric Adams was a cherished voice of sanity and brave criticism of the over aggressive policing that was resulting in one tragedy after another in 1990s New York. Curtis Sliwa founded the Guardian Angels in 1979 during a time of recession and budget cuts, and made a national organization out of citizen policing. Many saw them as a dangerous vigilante organization, but Mr. Sliwa says he has never carried a gun, nor have any of their members. The appearance of their red berets and jackets late at night on an empty subway car, I have to admit, had always been a welcome sight.
They both position themselves as law and authority figures. They both say they want to work with and support police. Mr. Sliwa is for hiring 3000 more cops, while Adams seems more interested in re-positioning those on desk duty, and computerizing his way towards safer streets and policing. In fact Adams seems to be running on an efficiency platform. In the preface of his ‘100 Steps Forward for New Yorkers’ he states,
All of these steps forward are guided by a simple truth: government
inefficiency leads to social injustice. And these steps will make New York’s government smarter and more effective in order to provide a safer, fairer city that is better prepared for the future.
In big letters, Adams announces he wants to build a SMARTER city government, with evaluations in “real-time” that would create a continually up-to-date “score” for each agency, and to appoint an Efficiency Czar. The somewhat ominous undertones of this technocratic approach–would individuals also soon be assigned their own efficiency scores?–are intertwined with lots of feel-good ideas in many other areas. His promotion of Forks over Knives-inspired vegan diet with which he overcame his advanced stage diabetes is truly inspirational. He wants to re-do all school cafeterias as well as hospitals with a whole foods natural diet. He also says he will promote urban farming, as well as community banking and community development corporations, and recover land lost to Robert Moses-era highway projects.
But his thinking in most areas involve, not exactly a cop behind every solution, as Maya Wiley had accused him of, but generalized references to technology. In responding a question in the 1st Mayoral Debates about the recent flooding of basement apartments that killed thirteen people, he stated there would have be an up to date database, ‘better monitoring’ and communication systems, such as timely text messages, where as Sliwa erupted that he would simply, ‘Clean the sewers!’ Another basic city service that he said de Blasio had neglected. Sliwa had spoken out about the budget cuts after Hurricane Ida, saying that he is down in the sewers at least twice a year, and sees that basic maintenance is not being done.
Sliwa’s refreshingly grounded approach also extended to his intention to place those who have lost their homes in the Hudson Yards. He has also come out very vocally against vaccine mandates, and the unfairness of discarding 1000s of city workers who did the toughest work through the toughest months of the pandemic. Or of depriving children of yet more school because their parents didn’t want them to take these novel injections. All despite his own vaccination status, and intention for his own children to be vaccinated. At one point he implores Eric Adams not to be a robot.
Unfortunately, Mr. Sliwa does come with a lot of baggage, in particular the faking of crimes in order to raise the Guardian Angels’ profile, which is a terrible blot on what otherwise seems a force for good, and a creative model for grass roots organizing and self-sufficiency. But, as a former police officer, Adams had moral ground to simply ignore Mr. Sliwa throughout the campaign and throughout the debates. And so there was a lost opportunity for a meaningful exchange between these two old time New Yorkers, particularly on the complex relationship of law enforcement and all other city services to technology. But none of the other Democratic candidates seemed to be interested in exploring this subject either.
Nobody touched Mr. Adams’ involvement and great faith in COMPStat, for instance, a software system that tracks and detects patterns in crime, and which he credits for making New York safe again in the 1990s. Others might credit Dinkins’ and his Police Commissioner Lee Brown’s program of community policing, and the hiring of more police officers, or the decrease of crime throughout the nation as a whole. CompSTAT might have helped with allocating resources better, but it is a form of predictive policing that many critics say leads to the unfair targeting of economically deprived neighborhoods, and the aggressive stop and frisk policies that Adams so decried. Adams says that these tools were misused by Giuliani and Bloomberg, that the program was meant to be Stop, Question and Frisk, and that the police instated a system of quotas that led to the abuse.
With his history and background it seems he would be much more determined to route out such abuses, but Adams goes further. He wants to bring this type of real time data collection and analysis to every city agency, to centralize their databases, and promote the chip-enabled NY City ID, which can be issued to illegal immigrants as well. All of this sounds incredibly convenient, but it comes at a moment in time when worldwide digital identification systems are being ushered in on the backs of vaccine status, and there is a push to capture and centralize every data stream about every individual, the dystopian possibilities of which have been unfolding in other parts of the world, such as India and China, which are much further along with getting all of their citizens and all social needs and interactions online. In New York it is just one step away to connect the City ID to the Excelsior Pass, the “health credentials” system launched under Cuomo, the first in the country based on your vaccine and/or test status, developed with former Nazi punch card inventor, IBM.
Adams also seems to be doing his part to phase out cash, and bring us much closer to digital currency. He is the first Mayor who wants to be paid in bitcoin, and is looking to follow in Miami’s footsteps in rolling out a CityCoin.
Adams’ exemplary history fighting for civil rights, and against police brutality, combined with his embrace of predictive technology, has created the perfect candidate to ease New York into the ultimate smart city. This means an internet connection on every piece of city infrastructure, and every mobile piece of equipment and device, including vehicles, and people. All of this is to be done in the name of efficiency, public safety, Climate Change, economic opportunity, and social justice, as Adams has defined in his city planning report. These are wonderful window dressings for systems that will in the end be building up a sophisticated and all encompassing control and surveillance system, which engineers themselves in the recent Beyond 6G conference in Brooklyn admit is a distinct possibility. How they will avoid this outcome they do not spend much time discussing, because perhaps there is no way ever to make a foolproof system. Though still we are to spend all our time, money and resources, and young talent, on building this system up.
These engineers are really engaging in fantasies that are downright impressive and irresponsible. Massive MIMO antenna inventor, Tom Marzetta, dreams about how to provide ubiquitous Augmented Reality, 2 GB a second, for 50,000 people all crammed in a quarter square mile of Times Square. Eric Schmidt believes the Internet as we know it will just disappear, because everything will be the Internet, everything will be sensored, chipped, have an IP address, which we will be interacting with, with our permission, as he always likes to say. If it is not visible, how will we know to give our consent?
Is this really what people want? Or are we just blindly following along? It seems we are expected simply to get over our expectations for privacy, and due process. These are just part of a legacy system of ideas. The technology is just too cool.
At times Adams seems to be walking a tight rope. In June he celebrated remote learning and said it was perfectly fine to have 300-400 students being taught by one skilled teacher, but then later said that the clip was taken out of context, and that he was merely offering remote learning as an option. He did suggest the big tech companies would pay for online schooling through a tax on the sale of student information to advertisers and others. The impropriety of allowing big tech companies to sell off students’ data was not even in his thoughts, not even the controversy surrounding it.
And yet this was the person who fought to have the police disband its Stop and Frisk database. It seems strange that he did not seem to have a problem with the data mining of all children. Granted these school children are not being stopped in the street, frisked, and put into a criminal database, but they are going into a government database somewhere. It is still an invasion of privacy, and normalizes the tracking of people for life. At best, he does not yet see the full scope of where all his campaign’s benefectors and advisors are leading him.
Right after Adams won the Democratic primaries he reached out to the business community and promised to be more business friendly, perhaps he meant to say Big Tech-friendly. He understandably sees technology and corporate largesse as the best means to ensure stable career paths for communities of color.
“I’m going to promise you in one year, you’re going to see a different city. We’re going to bring businesses here. We’re going to become the center of life science, the center of cybersecurity, the center of self-driving cars and drones, the center of bitcoins, the center of all the technology.”— Eric Adams, interview with Bloomberg, November 3, 2021
At that victory party, as if to settle our suspicions once and for all on where his ideas were being formed, he called for a Great Reset of city government, using founder of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab’s, infamous phrase.
The irony is that recently, police in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, were protesting not only the vaccine mandate, but the requirement to upload all their medical tests and personal information into a tracking app run by Fulgent Genetics, a company that was founded by Chinese American billionaire Ming Hsieh, who is its CEO and largest shareholder, and which has been accused by the FBI of sharing Americans’ personal data with the Chinese Government. Whether they did so willingly, or because they were obliged by Chinese law, is not clear.
Would this transgression upon their own privacy make police officers re-consider their agencies’ own questionable practices of collecting DNA, and other biometric information, often unwittingly, from people who were never even accused of a crime. The police departments were the first adopters of the surveillance and tracking systems that we all like to attribute to China, and there has been no oversight whatsoever on the legality of such practices. Alison McDowell reminds us, social credit scoring came out of Stanford, not China. It was first used to help credit card companies determine credit scores of potential customers. And today it has evolved into a full blown, AI-driven “Decision Management Suite.” One wonders if high up in the executive suites there are any humans left making decisions anymore.
Perhaps as the tables are turned on police officers themselves, we can now as a society truly face the dystopian possibilities of the world we are building. In order for there to be strength in unity, though, there has to be true justice and reform within law enforcement agencies. Anything holding this back is bad for the institution itself, which will be stripped of any moral standing. The call to get rid of police departments altogether will gain more steam. As outlandish and revolutionary as this demand sounds, it is not inconceivable that it could be allowed to happen as a way to usher in an even more all-encompassing system of AI-led surveillance and control.
Unfortunately, this underlying technology that is shaping our future is moving so fast, nobody can really make sense of it in time enough for it to matter. And I am posting these thoughts after all the voting has been done.
Yesterday evening I joined another local protest for the city workers. About 300 or so protestors, many of them laid off teachers, and other city and hospitality workers, marched from City Hall across the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Borough Hall, to deliver a message to the newly anointed mayor elect. The crowd circled around the grand building, with chants of, Our Body, Our Choice, and No Vaccine Mandate, then installed themselves in front of the back entrance, where brave and articulate and often quite young speakers, including a BLM leader, orated to the crowd. After about a half hour, lo and behold, the door opened up and Eric Adams strolled out, sipping what looked like a large smoothie, perhaps one of the Sea Moss drinks he had showed off on NY1.
People at first couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing, and then they went crazy. Eric Adams, smiling faintly and completely solo, made his way through the sea of people. Policemen eventually caught up to him and tried to offer some buffer, but he had pretty much laid himself bare to the chaotic scene. After some moments inside the government building across the street, he made his way back out again and, through one of the protestors’ microphones spoke to the crowd. He said he was willing to sit down at a table, that the group should pick a few representatives, so they can calmly discuss what the coalition’s viewpoints are, without yelling at each other.
Three of the most vocal and active long time protestors eventually made their way back into borough hall, while the crowd outside was all abuzz with what to make of the events. Was the mayor-elect simply using an age-old tactic to diffuse and deflate a movement’s momentum, or was this really a sign of hope? One had to admit it took some guts and character to come out the way he did to confront the New Yorkers who were clamoring outside his window, fighting with all their spirit for their children, their jobs, and their most basic of human rights not to take part in Phase II of the vaccine clinical trials, and who did not want anything to do with this Great Reset.
It was an amazing, and very human, moment: