Mayor Eric Adams has praised a decision by a Harlem NYPD precinct commander to have a police officer record video of concertgoers leaving a Drake performance at the Apollo Theater on Saturday, calling the idea a “creative” way of engaging with the community.
The incident, which was tweeted by a New York Times music critic, prompted sharp criticism of what some said rose to racist surveillance by the NYPD at a concert which drew a large audience of color. The NYPD, which said the content was being used for social media, has been routinely criticized for 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.
During an unrelated news conference in the Bronx on Monday, Adams dismissed the concerns as coming from a small minority on Twitter that don’t reflect “everyday New Yorkers.”
“Thumbs up to that great captain,” Adams said of Captain Tarik Sheppard, who heads the 28th Precinct.
The mayor went on to “commend” Sheppard for taking video of concertgoers.
“And I encourage all of my commanding officers to be creative on how we engage with our residents,” he said, adding, “That was a safe event.”
Following questions about the video recording, an NYPD spokesperson said the footage of concertgoers 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,” read a statement. “The officer was taking video for an upcoming twitter post that will highlight local community events. The video will not be utilized for any other reason.”
Critics, however, expressed concerns that the footage 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 institution of Black performance in Harlem is highly concerning,” said Will Owen, of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, an anti-surveillance and privacy rights group.
“This is yet another example of NYPD’s racist use of surveillance technology, following the department’s long legacy of targeting rap concerts. We’re deeply concerned about facial recognition may have been involved, and demand the department destroy any footage it took. This is the latest proof that the city and state must ban its use at venues once and for all.”
Most recently, the group has joined lawmakers to demand that Madison Square Garden stop using facial recognition to ban certain lawyers who represent firms suing the organization.
Adams has been a supporter of using facial recognition as well as other technology in policing. “We will use every available method to keep our people safe,” he said last year.
Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University law professor who is an expert on policing, was among those who were skeptical that recording concertgoers promoted a feeling of safety.
“I doubt anyone there felt safer because the NYPD was creating a digital record of their time at the Apollo to hear 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 welcomed the presence of police in their communities.
“Those who are naysayers find reasons to complain about everything,” he said. “That’s not reality. Let them keep complaining.”