Mayor Eric Adams praised a decision by a NYPD police chief in Harlem to allow a police officer to videotape concertgoers leaving a Drake performance at the Apollo Theater on Saturday.
The incident, which was tweeted by a New York Times music critic, led to sharp criticism of what some said amounted to racial surveillance by the NYPD at a concert that attracted a large audience of color. The NYPD, which said the content was used for social media, has routinely been criticized for controversial surveillance practices it has employed since 9/11.
Considered one of the biggest rap artists in the industry, Drake delivered what was later described as an “intimate” performance of his greatest hits in the iconic theater.
At an unrelated press conference in the Bronx on Monday, Adams dismissed the concerns as coming from a small minority on Twitter that doesn’t reflect “everyday New Yorkers.”
“Thumbs up to that great captain,” Adams said of Captain Tarik Sheppard, who commands the 28th Precinct.
The mayor went on to “praise” Sheppard for taking videos of concertgoers.
“And I encourage all my commanders to be creative in how we interact with our residents,” he said, adding, “That was a safe event.”
After 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,” a statement read. “The officer made a video for an upcoming Twitter post that will highlight local community events. The video will not be used for any other reason.”
However, critics were concerned that the footage could be used for facial recognition technology, which is legal in New York. The NYPD has traditionally used 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 deeply concerning,” said Will Owen of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, an anti-surveillance and privacy rights group.
“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 are demanding that the department destroy all captured footage. This is the latest evidence that the city and state should ban their use in venues once and for all.”
Recently, the group joined lawmakers in demanding that Madison Square Garden stop using facial recognition to ban certain attorneys representing firms suing the organization.
Adams was a proponent of using facial recognition and other technology in the police force. “We will use every method available to keep our people safe,” he said last year.
Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University and an expert on policing, was among those skeptical that recording concertgoers fostered a sense of security.
“I doubt anyone felt safer there because the NYPD was making a digital recording of their time in the Apollo hearing a black music performer,” he said. “Did the NYPD think there was going to be a riot there?”
However, Adams 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 the reality. Let them keep complaining.”