In anticipation of a weekend of protests against police violence, Mayor Eric Adams on Friday delivered a somber address to the public that drew from his own painful experience as a Black teenager while also urging New Yorkers to engage in peaceful protest.
“Like so many of you, I'm feeling that pain,” Adams said during a roughly four-minute speech.
His remarks came two hours before the anticipated release of what is expected to be a brutal video showing five Memphis police officers beating Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. Nichols later died from his wounds.
The potential unrest in New York City marks a test for Adams, the city’s second Black mayor and former NYPD officer who became an outspoken critic of police abuse. As mayor, he has frequently argued that he intends to balance the interests of public safety with police accountability.
“If you need to express your anger and outrage, do so peacefully,” Adams added. “My message to the NYPD has been and will continue to be to exercise restraint.”
The mayor said he had received a briefing from the White House and spoken with over 125 elected officials in the city. He said that by all reports, the video will be “graphic and disturbing.”
“As a human being, I am devastated,” he said. “As a mayor, I am outraged.”
In 2020, the death of George Floyd, a 45-year-old Black Minneapolis resident, sparked weeks of demonstrations across the city that resulted in ugly clashes between police and protesters. The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a police watchdog group which reviewed hundreds of protester complaints, eventually recommended that 145 NYPD officers be disciplined.
During his address, Adams told a well-known story he often invoked during his campaign for mayor — that of being beaten as a teenager, along with his brother, by NYPD officers in the basement of a police station.
“I was angry. I refused to trust the system,” he said. But he said his conversations with Rev. Herbert Daughtry, a community activist in Brooklyn, convinced him that he should join the police department and change the system from within.
“We should be able to express our sorrow in our rage,” he said. “But we must take all that pain and turn it into purpose, like the Reverend Daughtry taught me.”
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct year when the George Floyd protests occurred.