- Jumaane WilliamsNew York City public advocate.
After a gunman opened fire on a subway train during morning rush hour Tuesday, with 10 people shot and another 13 injured, we speak with New York City public advocate and gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, who says “the answer to the gun violence problem cannot be solely sending police,” adding that New York must respond with a comprehensive plan to beef up social services and programs. He also speaks about the resignation of Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin — who was arrested on bribery charges — and recent news that disgraced former Governor Andrew Cuomo may run in the November election.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the latest mass shooting in the United States. It unfolded here in New York City Tuesday when a gunman opened fire on a crowded subway train in Brooklyn during morning rush hour. The gunman threw two smoke grenades on the floor of the train, then fired 33 times. Ten people were shot. At least 23 were injured. The New York Times described it as the worst attack in the history of the city’s subway system. Security cameras at the subway station were not working at the time of the shooting, but riders caught some of the graphic aftermath on cellphone video.
The shooting occurred in the working-class neighborhood of Sunset Park, which has a large Latinx and Asian immigrant population. Police have identified a 62-year-old man named Frank James as a person of interest in the mass shooting. Investigators say the gunman left behind a bag on the train carrying fireworks, a hatchet and two gas canisters, indicating he might have been plotting a broader attack.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul spoke outside the train station Tuesday.
GOV. KATHY HOCHUL: The people of the entire state of New York stand with the people of this city, this community, and we say, “No more. No more mass shootings. No more disrupting lives. No more creating heartbreak for people just trying to live their lives as normal New Yorkers.” It has to end, and it ends now.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who’s isolating at Gracie Mansion after testing positive for COVID-19 this week, said Tuesday he’ll double the police patrolling the city’s transit system, at least for now, and did not dismiss the idea of installing, quote, “something like metal detectors” at subway stations. Adams is a former transit cop. This is Mayor Adams on CBS News Tuesday night.
MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: What concerns me the most is what I’ve been talking about for several months now, that we have many rivers that are feeding the sea of violence in our city and cities across America. And it’s time for all lawmakers to be on the same page. The overproliferation of guns — we removed 1,800 guns off our streets in a little over three months, similar to the gun that was used. It’s time for us to get serious about the guns in our city, including ghost guns.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as President Biden announced new steps Monday aimed at regulating the untraceable homemade weapons called ghost guns. Tuesday’s attack in Brooklyn comes as several mass shootings have occurred in the United States in recent days.
For more, we’re joined by New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who’s also running for New York governor.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Jumaane Williams. Can we begin — you were there yesterday in Sunset Park, this working-class neighborhood of Latinx and Asian immigrants, in particular, many, many essential workers. Can you talk about what you learned and what you understand about the person — not suspect, the police are calling him now — not a suspect, but person of interest?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: Well, thanks so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure.
And, of course, on the ground, you know, people are concerned. People are a little stunned. You also have to remember there were schools nearby, one almost directly across the street, maybe a block away, on lockdown, because kids were on their way to school. So, the one thing we have to remember is that shots were fired and people were physically hit — thank god, no lives were taken; it’s just a miracle — but the compounding trauma that happens for people who witnessed it, people who got away, people who were in the car with that smoke, and children who couldn’t get out when they wanted to, is long-lasting. And that’s one of the things we have to continue to talk about, the compounding trauma that happens when there’s gun violence.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jumaane Williams, what’s your response to Mayor Eric Adams’s plan now to double the amount of police presence in the subway system as a — at least as a temporary measure?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: You know, we always say that police and law enforcement partners are good for acute situations. This was an acute situation. I understand why people may want to now see additional officers, because they want to feel safe and actually be safe. One of the problems we’ve always said with trying to throw police at every problem is that if it doesn’t work, you then have to throw more police, and then more police, and then more aggressive police. And we’ve been saying for a long time that the answer to the gun violence problem cannot be solely sending police to these — to try to deal with this problem. We had a police surge last year. Then we had another one at the end of the year, beginning of this year. We also have new units that are going into the streets. And still we’re having this gun violence problem.
And so, my hope is that the leaders, from federal, state and city, will finally come together with a more comprehensive plan that addresses public safety. I’m proud to be a leading voice on this issue and have had great experience helping the city get to where it got to in 2018, 2019. We have to do more of what is actually working. This is a national problem. I will say data means nothing to you if you’re a victim of crime, to those 10 people that were shot. But other cities are having worse problems, and so we shouldn’t look to them. We should be looking to ourselves at what was working and what has been working.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about — when you talk about a more comprehensive solution, there’s the perception that the public has, especially as the media focus on many of these isolated or these incidents of violence, when the reality is that, yes, there’s been an increase in crime in recent years, but it’s nothing compared to what it was like back in the 1990s, when 2,000 people a year were being killed in New York City. I’m wondering your perspective: What would a comprehensive plan look like?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: That’s 100% correct. As leaders, what we have to do is have difficult conversations with the public. And as I said before, data means nothing to the one person who shot, to the people who were in that car, to the 10 people who now have a long-term trauma. But, as you said, the media has to be more responsible, because we are nowhere close to where we were in the '80s and ’90s. And, quite frankly, we're still one of the safest cities in the country, even with the spike in crime. But we don’t want that spike to happen.
We do have a way that we can address this. Many of us have been pushing for the comprehensive solutions for such a long time. As the pandemic was rising, we told folks that while gun sales are increasing, while there are issues with mental health, housing, food insecurity getting worse, we’re going to see more violence. Let’s get some programs in. We know we have our law enforcement partners. But the more we rely on them solely, the more we’re going to see this violence increase. We asked for a billion dollars in the state budget to address specifically gun violence and victim services. We didn’t get that money. But what we did get is a lot of rhetoric, and we got a billion dollars to the Buffalo Bills — that’s another conversation.
What we need now are people who understand this conversation, who understand how to address public safety in these communities, and really have the courage to have that conversation with the public. But what we can’t do is feed the fear the way we are doing, and then provide solutions that we know haven’t really solved the problem in the past and have caused other traumatic effects on the same community.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Jumaane Williams, you’re running for governor. It’s also being talked about quietly that Governor — and not so quietly — Cuomo may be entering the race soon again to run again for governor. But you’ve put out a housing-for-all proposal, and I’m wondering if you could be very specific about this, because when we talk about money, where it should go — and there were big issues with what happened at Sunset Park. You know, there’s only one exit out, but whoever it was clearly got out, not clear if at that station or somewhere else, no cameras working in the area. Apparently, some police officer asked a passenger to call 911, said his radio wasn’t working. But what you feel those — those services have to be shored up, what are the big problems in New York?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: There must be. First of all, I always want to say we cannot provide excuses for people shooting up a train. There has to be accountability, and there has to be consequences for that kind of action, shooting up a street. But what we do say is we can’t spend more time on that than actually preventing it from happening in the first place. And so, first, Congress has to act. Every illegal gun on these streets were legal at some point. There is too much flow of guns into these cities. We do need law enforcement and interagency cooperation to deal with the iron pipeline of those guns coming in. But what we also know is the intersection of access to healthcare, access to food, access to better education, access to mental health, access to housing can help with issues that people are having that then lead to higher incidences of crime.
We’ve put forth a housing plan to help address the homeless and housing insecurity problem that we have. We have a plan to build and preserve a million units in New York state over the past — next 10 years. The governor has a plan to build simply 100,000 units over the next five years. That is not enough to deal with one of the boroughs that we have in New York City, much less all of the counties in New York state. And if we don’t access these type of things, it provides more pressure for people who are dealing with them. And we do know that the numbers show the more people are dealing with these kind of issues, the more violence that we have. And so, we’ve addressed this in the past.
Again, I’m happy that we helped lead the city to become the safest it’s ever been in 2018 and 2019, funding community programs, funding community groups, addressing many of these social issues. And it worked. We said we should double down on that. We should focus on what was working, not trying to relive and rehash policies of the past that did not work. Our community and our New Yorkers and all of the country deserve to have leaders working on a real plan to address this gun violence, because there are very real victims that deserve it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jumaane Williams, I wanted to ask you about the recently passed state budget. Governor Hochul approved the $220 billion budget for the state. The state was probably this year in better financial shape than any time in its history as a result of so much federal emergency COVID money coming to the states and the cities across the country. You’ve called this budget a “colossal missed opportunity that failed to meet the moment.” Why do you say that?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: It absolutely is. You know, we, as you mentioned, had more money than we’ve ever had, yet the issues that I’m speaking about were woefully and inadequately addressed. Even some of the good issues that were addressed, like $7 billion for child care, which is a huge issue in the state of New York, most of that money is in the out-years. Unfortunately, the governor has said she will not raise any revenue from millionaires and billionaires. In fact, she told them that they wouldn’t, and she got an extra $20 million over the course of the following week after mentioning that. And she won’t address some of these issues, because she refuses, and says it specifically: “I can’t fund this because it’s not sustainable.” It’s not sustainable if you don’t raise revenue. We have to raise revenue. There’s no money in there to deal with the housing crisis that we are dealing with at this moment in time. We got more money for the Buffalo Bills, to a billionaire, than for gun violence prevention. If you don’t raise revenue, New York state is going to continue to suffer.
What we had was an ability to meet a moment, to provide a New Deal-level commitment to New York state. That didn’t happen. We told folks when we were running — and people can go to JumaaneWilliams.com and see all of our plans — but we told them, while we were running, that this current governor was going to be either the same or worse than the previous governor, because this is the space that she has built her career in. Albany has muscle memory. And unfortunately, what we’re seeing in the past few weeks with this budget and other news is exactly that. And it’s very hard to watch in slow motion, because we know what’s going to be happening in the next two, three years as we begin to cut the very bone of what people need in the state of New York.
AMY GOODMAN: New York’s Lieutenant Governor — speaking of the state — Brian Benjamin resigned Tuesday. It was shortly after 5 p.m. But his arrest might have gotten lost earlier in the day in the midst of the news of the mass shooting. But he was arrested in the morning on federal corruption charges, accused of directing $50,000 in state funds to a real estate investor in exchange for campaign donations. I wanted to turn to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, outlining the charges against Benjamin.
DAMIAN WILLIAMS: This is a simple story of corruption. We allege that Benjamin struck a corrupt bargain with a real estate developer, referred to in the indictment as CC1. Benjamin allegedly directed a $50,000 state grant to a nonprofit organization controlled by CC1. And in exchange, Benjamin received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from CC1.
AMY GOODMAN: He was appointed by Kathy Hochul when — as lieutenant governor, after she became governor following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo. Again, Hochul is now running for reelection, and, Jumaane Williams, you’re one of her challengers. Can you talk about the significance of these charges? Most people probably — it might have been lost yesterday, given the global headlines around the mass shooting.
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: You know, I have to say that there is, obviously, a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and the former lieutenant governor has pleaded not guilty. It is always hard, and especially in someone you know, when you see a Black or Brown person going through this. I do think they have some additional scrutiny on them. But with that said, the charges are really serious. And it’s hard to see it, again, in somebody that you know. And those legal issues are very troubling in a space of time where we’ve seen these kind of issues come up before.
What’s most astonishing to me is the governor herself saying that she had no idea, even though these issues had come up before, no idea that these legal troubles were going on. That is a key to me, because these are the same things the governor said when she was the lieutenant governor of Andrew Cuomo. And she said she didn’t know anything about what was going on, when the whole world knew, before even the horrors that got him taken down, that — his bullying tactics, the shroud of corruption and scandal that surrounded him, that made New York not be governed the way it should be. And to say that again, what it says to me is there’s either woeful aloofness that is going on or, embarrassingly, there is some inadequacy and inability to see what’s going on in your own space. Or it’s worse, that you implicitly — are implicitly allowing these things to continue, and not saying anything about it.
And that is a huge concern and one of the reasons that we decided to run, because we knew there wasn’t going to be much change in Albany. And I’m actually sad to have been right, but I’m happy that we’re here to continue to get a message of what New York actually can be for the people who live here, for the working class, the middle class, the struggling, and not what we have been. So we keep saying, in the interest of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers that we lost, the one thing we can’t do is what the governor keeps saying, which is go back to normal, which is what we’re seeing here. We need a better than normal. We need to normalize people’s lives in a way that helps them to live better ones.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 15 seconds, Jumaane, but if you could respond to the news that it is possible Governor Cuomo is going to reenter the race, and he’ll be one of your challengers, or you’ll both be running against Hochul? Your comment?
JUMAANE WILLIAMS: I mean, this is what happens when people don’t do what they’re supposed to do. The Legislature should have impeached him. They should look and to see and to try to impeach him right now. This is the problem. We’ve been seeing how bad the governor has been for many, many years. People got brave toward the end of his career. But if they had spoken out before, including this current governor, we may not be in this position. And if people had actually went ahead and impeached him, we wouldn’t be dealing with this, as well. It’s a sad day for New York if he does do that. And it’s dangerous for New York if he does do that. But this is what happens when people enable, either explicitly or implicitly.
AMY GOODMAN: Jumaane Williams, we want to thank you for being with us, New York City public advocate and candidate for New York governor.
This is Democracy Now! Next up, as U.S. inflation soars to the highest rate in four decades, we’ll look at the impact of higher prices here and around the world with economics professor Jayati Ghosh. Stay with us.