Law students graduating from the City University of New York (CUNY) turned their backs on New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) in protest against him as he gave their commencement address on Friday.
Video posted on social media showed many of the graduates standing silently and facing the back of the room as Adams spoke. The mayor also received some boos and shouting.
“We have a lot of challenges, a lot of things that it needs discipline. And just as you see these graduates here, I know what it is to protest,” he said, which was followed by some yells back at him.
Adams has faced some controversy in the past week for his response to the death of Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old mentally ill homeless man who was killed in a subway station earlier this month by Marine veteran Daniel Penny.
Penny put Neely in a chokehold, causing him to lose consciousness. Neely was later pronounced dead in a hospital, and an autopsy ruled his death was a homicide.
Penny this week was charged with second-degree manslaughter. His attorneys have said he killed Neely in self-defense, while attorneys for Neely’s family said Neely was not harming anyone.
Neely was Black, while Penny is white.
Adams received criticism for his first comments on the subject not being to denounce Penny’s actions and emphasizing the rights of subway riders to act in some situations. He later called the incident a “tragedy that never should have happened” and vowed to take action to support mental health.
The New York Daily News reported the protest against Adams at the graduation ceremony came a day after some of the university’s students and professors rallied against proposed cuts in Adams’s budget. Comptroller Brad Lander estimated the cuts would cost CUNY 235 faculty and staff positions.
Adams also received applause at some points of his speech, including when he said, “I’m the mayor because I know how to speak on behalf of the countless number of people in this city.”
Fabien Levy, the press secretary for Adams, told The Hill in a statement that he respects the protesters’ rights to peacefully protest as he has “countless times” during his career.
“As the mayor always says, this city may have 8.8 million people, but it also has 35 million opinions,” Levy wrote. “We thank these graduates for going into the field of law and their willingness to serve their communities — helping those who are disadvantaged, crafting public policy and legislation, or serving in public office themselves.”
“The mayor looks forward to seeing how these graduates serve our city in the future,” he added.