MIDTOWN, Manhattan — One day after a gunman opened fire in Times Square, shooting a 4-year-old girl and two women, candidates hoping to become the city’s next mayor scrambled to put forth their plans to combat gun violence.
Andrew Yang stood at the crossroads of the world Sunday morning and discussed his vision for how to reduce the number of shootings, which skyrocketed in 2020 and continue to plague the city so far this year.
“The truth is that New York cannot afford to defund the police, not while New Yorkers are concerned about rising rates of violent crime, petty crime, and walking freely in their neighborhoods,” Yang said. “If the city cannot stop shootings in Times Square, one of the most policed neighborhoods in our city, what does that say about what’s happening in Black and brown communities throughout our city where we’re underinvesting and we know that rates of gun violence are higher?”
The “defund police” movement gained a foothold in New York City last year in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests against police brutality and racial justice in the five boroughs.
The City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to shift $1 billion in NYPD funding to youth and social services programs, but the budget deal was still met with criticism from both “defund police” supporters and the movement’s opposition.
Critics said the city was just moving money around instead of making real changes to the police department. Meanwhile, those who oppose defunding the NYPD have pointed to the continued bloodshed as a reason why the department needs more resources — not less.
Yang, a Democrat, said on Saturday that as the city reopens under loosened COVID-19 restrictions and increased vaccinations, the police-community relationship is more important than ever.
“Our city’s opening and recovery is contingent on whether our streets and subways are safe. Nothing works in this city without public safety, and for public safety, we need the police to be our partners,” he said. “We cannot fall into the trap of imagining there’s a false choice between keeping our people safe and evolving the NYPD – the fact is we cannot do one without the other. We need to restore our city with hope – hope begins with safety.”
Another Democrat in the mayor’s race, Ray McGuire, released a statement Sunday that blamed city leaders for the rise in shootings and called for a double-sided solution that involved putting more officers on the streets while staying away from outdated policing tactics.
“As gun violence continues to rise in our city at alarming rates, the fix isn’t to defund and disarm, leaving the most vulnerable and often forgotten neighborhoods unprotected, nor is the answer going back to Giuliani-era police tactics like some have suggested,” McGuire said. “We need to immediately increase the number of police officers within the NYPD focused on getting guns off our streets, as well as community resources that effectively prevent and disrupt violence. And our courts need the ability to get repeat offenders and known members of criminal organizations off the streets.”
On Saturday, mere hours after the shooting in Times Square, Democratic mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a news conference outside the barricaded area.
“I have been talking about this on the [campaign] trail and I’m just disappointed. Am I the only candidate that’s running for mayor that understands that we can’t go back to violence and we can’t act like this is not happening in front of us,” said Adams.
The borough president was expected to hold another briefing in Times Square on Sunday.
Curtis Sliwa, a Republican candidate for mayor and the founder of the Guardian Angels, also planned to speak in Times Square Sunday afternoon along with city tourism leaders. He was expected to announce new Guardian Angels patrols and outline stepped up security efforts in the area.
Several other candidates in the crowded field for mayor reacted to the shooting Saturday on Twitter.
Police, meanwhile, continued to look for the Times Square shooter on Sunday.
The NYPD released a photo of the suspect Saturday night.
A preliminary investigation indicated the shooting began with two to four people who got into a dispute, police said. Several gunshots rang out on 45th Street and Seventh Avenue just before 5 p.m.
Two women and a 4-year-old girl were injured, but they’re all expected to be OK, police said. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said the victims were innocent bystanders who did not know each other.
Submit tips to police by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477), visiting crimestoppers.nypdonline.org, downloading the NYPD Crime Stoppers mobile app, or texting 274637 (CRIMES) then entering TIP577. Spanish-speaking callers are asked to dial 1-888-57-PISTA (74782).
PIX11’s Stephen M. Lepore, Rebecca Solomon, Magee Hickey, and Aliza Chasan contributed to this report.