How the Deaths of N.Y.P.D. Officers Have Shaped Eric Adams

In his final days before taking office, Mayor Eric Adams made an unheralded visit to a Brooklyn church for a memorial service honoring two police officers killed in the line of duty seven years ago.

Mr. Adams did not speak at the event, nor did he hold a formal news conference. His visit was more personal than political.

Since his own days as a rookie officer in the 1980s, Mr. Adams has understood the dangers of policing and has mourned the deaths of friends and colleagues. The 2014 execution-style killings of the two officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, in Brooklyn were particularly devastating.

Mr. Adams, who was borough president at the time, visited Officer Liu’s family shortly after he was killed, starting a relationship that has continued through Mr. Adams’s rise to the mayoralty while helping to shape his nuanced view of policing.

“I always want to remember, ‘Stay focused, Eric,’ because every decision we make about public safety is dealing with real people,” Mr. Adams said in an interview last week at City Hall.

Now in his second month as mayor, Mr. Adams is again comforting grieving families after the killing of two other officers, Jason Rivera and Wilbert Mora, who had responded to a domestic dispute in Manhattan. Shortly after their deaths, Mr. Adams released a public safety plan that is meant to fulfill his campaign pledge to reduce gun violence while curbing police abuses.

Mayor Eric Adams embraced members of Officer Jason Rivera’s family at the officer’s funeral in January.Credit…Pool photo by Mary Altaffer

The stakes are high for the mayor. President Biden visited New York on Thursday to highlight Mr. Adams’s public safety agenda, and Mr. Adams’s first term could be judged on whether he reduces the number of shootings in the city.

His predecessor, Bill de Blasio, faced perhaps the greatest crisis of his tenure with the killing of Officers Liu and Ramos in his first year in office. Officers turned their backs on him at their slain colleagues’ funerals, and police leaders accused Mr. de Blasio of fueling anti-police sentiment after he described warning his biracial son, Dante, about encounters with the police.

The tone from officers has been very different this time, in part because of Mr. Adams’s background in the Police Department and his relationships with officers and their families. Officer Liu’s mother, Xiu Yan Li, said she believed Mr. Adams would support officers as mayor.

“He will protect the police and look out for them,” she said.

In the Democratic primary, Mr. Adams sought to find a middle ground on policing. He rejected calls to “defund” the police and argued that he could improve safety while ousting abusive officers, an approach he said had grown out of his journey from a teenager beaten by the police to a police captain.

The delicate balance was on display in 2014, when, about a week after Officers Liu and Ramos were killed, Mr. Adams came to Mr. de Blasio’s defense and called for unity. He wrote in Time magazine that funerals were “neutral zones” and that the officers turning their backs had engaged in a “display of misplaced anger” that would only “further divide our city.”

Looking back, Mr. Adams said it was important to respect the symbol of the office of mayor and that the best way for officers to protest would be to vote against Mr. de Blasio.

“That was a very pivotal and tenuous moment that we had to be very careful about,” Mr. Adams said.

Some officers turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at the 2014 funeral for Officer Wenjian Liu, who was fatally shot in the line of duty. Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

His supporters also reflect his unusual background. Mr. Adams was endorsed by Abner Louima, who became a national symbol of police brutality in 1997 when an officer sexually assaulted him with a broomstick, and by William Bell, the father of Sean Bell, a young man who was killed in a hail of 50 police bullets in 2006.

At the same time, Mr. Adams was among the candidates to be endorsed by the city’s largest police union, the Police Benevolent Association, in the Democratic primary.

Mr. Adams said that supporters of the police and those seeking reform are often in conflict but that he understands “both ends of the spectrum.”

“That is why this moment is so interesting,” he said. “This is a moment where a mayor understands public safety and justice.”

But his plans to bring back plainclothes anti-crime units and his calls for harsher bail policies have prompted fierce criticism from police reform groups. The units, which were involved in a disproportionate number of fatal shootings, were disbanded in 2020 after protests following George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis.

One critic of Mr. Adams’s safety plan is Kadiatou Diallo, whose son, Amadou Diallo, was killed in 1999 when plainclothes officers shot him 41 times. Ms. Diallo and Mr. Adams have known each other for years, and she said she planned to ask him for a meeting to discuss her concerns after marking the 23rd anniversary of her son’s death last week.

The anti-crime units, Ms. Diallo wrote in an email, are designed to “aggressively target communities of color” and to employ “profiling, excessive force and harassment, no matter what uniform or equipment they use.”

Mr. Adams has insisted that the new version of the units would have more oversight, including body-worn cameras, and that officers would wear N.Y.P.D. windbreakers or other clothing that identified them.

When he announced his safety plan, Mr. Adams noted that he carries in his wallet a photo of Officer Robert Venable, a friend who was killed in 1987 during a shootout outside an abandoned Brooklyn building. Mr. Adams said the photo helps to remind him that shooting victims are more than crime statistics, a point driven home by his appearance in December at the seven-year memorial for Officers Liu and Ramos.

Mr. Adams keeps a picture of Officer Robert Venable, a friend who was killed in a 1987 shootout in Brooklyn, in his wallet as a reminder of crime’s human toll.  Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

“He said, ‘I wanted to be here,’” Officer Liu’s wife, Sanny Liu, said in an interview. “I was shocked. I was not expecting him to show up and I appreciated that he was there.”

Mr. Adams first visited the Liu family late in 2014. He cried outside their home, in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, telling The New York Daily News that the officer’s death was a “Shakespearean tragedy.”

N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration

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Schools Chancellor: David Banks. The longtime New York City educator, who rose to prominence after creating a network of public all-boys schools, takes the lead at the nation’s largest public school system as it struggles to emerge from the pandemic.

Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives becomes New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid ​​a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.

Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. ​​The former N.Y.P.D. officer, who was the chief of the Las Vegas public safety department, is tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.

Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. ​​After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor returns to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.

Transportation Commissioner: Ydanis Rodriguez. ​​The Manhattan council member is a trusted ally of Mr. Adams. Mr. Rodriguez will face major challenges in his new role: In 2021, traffic deaths in the city soared to their highest level since 2013, partly due to speeding and reckless driving.

Health Commissioner: Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, stays in the role to provide continuity to the city’s pandemic response. In mid-March, Dr. Vasan, the president of a mental health and public health charity, will take over.

Deputy mayors. ​​Mr. Adams announced five women as deputy mayors, including Lorraine Grillo as his top deputy. Philip Banks III, a former N.Y.P.D. chief who resigned while under federal investigation in 2014, later announced his own appointment as deputy mayor for public safety.

Executive director of mayoral security: Bernard Adams. Amid concerns of nepotism, Mayor Adams’s brother, who is a retired police sergeant, will oversee mayoral security after he was originally named as deputy police commissioner.

“I told them they lost a son but they gained a son,” Mr. Adams said.

He has held true to that, visiting the family often over the years and inviting them to public events to honor Officer Liu.

The family also has a connection to Mr. Biden, who, as vice president, attended Officer Liu’s funeral. When Mr. Biden’s son Beau died in 2015, Officer Liu’s parents drove to Delaware for the wake and waited in line for hours to hug Mr. Biden — a moment Mr. Biden said stood out to him in a sea of mourners.

Officer Liu, a Chinese immigrant who was inspired to join the Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, had been married only a few months when he died. His wife asked the hospital to retrieve his sperm so that someday she might have his child.

Their daughter, Angelina, is 4 now and she resembles her father. She and her mother recently visited Officer Liu’s parents for a lunch to celebrate the Chinese New Year. They talked about attending Officer Rivera’s funeral and meeting his widow and about how Mr. Adams was working to build an archway to honor Officer Liu in the Sunset Park neighborhood this year.

Angelina Liu, 4, with her mother, Sanny Liu, who had been married to Officer Liu for just a few months when he was fatally shot.  Credit…An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Mr. Adams said he viewed the officer’s mother as his adopted mother, especially after his own mother’s death last year.

On election night, he gave a victory speech in Brooklyn surrounded by political allies, the governor and his brother. He made sure another important person was onstage: Officer Liu’s mother.

“She was part of my campaign — she was always out with me and supporting me, and she believed in what I stood for,” Mr. Adams said. “Having her on that stage with me meant a lot, probably more for me than it did for her.”

Officer Liu’s mother, in red coat at right, and father, just behind her, at Mr. Adams’s victorious election night speech Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

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