Mayor Eric Adams praised a Harlem NYPD precinct commander’s decision to have a police officer record video of spectators leaving a Drake performance at the Apollo Theater on Saturday, calling the idea “creatively to engage with the community.
The incident, which was tweeted by a New York Times music critic, drew heavy criticism over what some called racist NYPD surveillance of a concert that drew a large audience of color. The NYPD, which said the content was used for social media, has been regularly criticized for the controversial surveillance practices it has adopted since 9/11.
Drake, who is considered one of the biggest rap artists in the industry, delivered what was later described as an “intimate” performance of his greatest hits at the iconic theater.
At an independent press conference in the Bronx on Monday, Adams dismissed concerns as coming from a small minority on Twitter that don’t reflect “everyday New Yorkers.”
“Bravo to this great captain,” Adams said of captain Tarik Sheppard, who leads the 28th Precinct.
The mayor then “praised” Sheppard for filming the onlookers.
“And I encourage all of my commanding officers to be creative in how we engage with our residents,” he said, adding, “It was a safe event.”
Following questions about the video recording, an NYPD spokesperson said bystander footage would only be used to promote community events on social media.
“The officer depicted in the video is a community affairs officer involved with the 28th Precinct’s social media team,” a statement read. “The officer was taking a video for an upcoming Twitter post that will highlight local community events. The video will not be used for any other reason.
Critics, however, have expressed concern that the images could be used for facial recognition technology, which is legal in New York. The NYPD has historically operated a “rap unit” to monitor hip hop performances.
“The NYPD’s use of a video recording device on hip-hop fans at a historic black performance institution in Harlem is deeply concerning,” said Will Owen of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, an anti-terrorism group. -surveillance and privacy protection.
“This is yet another example of the NYPD’s racist use of surveillance technology, following the department’s long tradition of targeting rap concerts. We are deeply concerned that facial recognition may have been involved and demand that the department destroy any images it has taken. This is the latest proof that the city and state must ban its use on sites once and for all.
More recently, the group joined lawmakers in demanding that Madison Square Garden stop using facial recognition to bar certain attorneys who represent companies suing the organization.
Adams has been a proponent of using facial recognition as well as other technologies in policing. “We will use all available methods to keep our staff safe,” he said last year.
Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University law professor and law enforcement expert, was among those who were skeptical that recording spectators fostered a sense of safety.
“I doubt anyone there would feel safer because the NYPD was creating a digital recording of their time at the Apollo to hear from a black music artist,” he said. “Did the NYPD think a riot was going to break out there?”
Adams, however, argued that most New Yorkers welcome the presence of police in their communities.
“Those who are pessimistic find reasons to complain about everything,” he said. “That’s not reality. Let them keep complaining.”