I can’t stand the subway for reasons to infinity and beyond. But let me count the ways. From the machine you need to use in order to purchase a MetroCard to access the subway platform is prone to malfunction at a moment’s notice, to the rats scurrying about the platform to keep your company. And let’s not forget the overcrowdedness, exacerbating an already tense situation given the varying degrees of offensive body odor, respect for the idea of personal space, and general human decency. Then there are the random people practicing their future Cirque du Soleil audition a little too close to your head. I could go on. And on.
When it comes to riding the subway in New York, while we all have our gripes to bear about MTA, thanks to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, Black subway riders in particular have new reason to loathe the faltering public transit system in New York: it is apparently the new preferred venue for New York City police officers to antagonize and attack poor Black people.
Like many, I have watched in horror the clips of young Black people being assailed by New York City police officers. I have tried not to watch so many clips of Black people being abused by officers of the state in recent years over fears of becoming desensitized. But I couldn’t look away from these clips of terrified subway riders fleeing a car because a cop opted to point a gun at a Black man riding the train.
I made myself watch them to remind myself of many things, but most assuredly, the reality that one ride to Trader Joe’s or my barber can now result in me bearing witness to tragedy. It’s not like I don’t know as a Black man myself there is always a risk with law enforcement around, but as someone who has swiped in Black boys onto the subway, it feels all the more menacing. Those boys and young men are struggling and are just trying to find a way to wherever their next destination is.
None of us should have fear someone losing their life over $2.75.
In response to the viral clip, NYPD Transit Chief Edward Delatorre said that police had believed the man filmed at the Franklin Avenue station had brandished a firearm, and when the cops had previously tried to stop him, he ran. “What the video doesn’t show is a credible witness alerting our officers to a man brandishing a gun,” Delatorre tweeted. “When officers approached the man in question, he fled into a subway station and onto a train to escape. Only at the next station did the man show compliance, not when he first ran.”
Ultimately, the man at Franklin Avenue was arrested for fare evasion, per the Washington Post.
Forgive me if I have trouble placing trust in the NYPD’s judgment on how it treats Black and brown people, but even if I were to give him the benefit of the doubt, does that explain a separate clip of multiple police officers basically jumping some Black kid who clearly is not that grave a threat?
Again, is any of this worth $2.75?
So, much like the New York Times, I, too, question why there need to be an additional 500 more officers patrolling the subways — which would cost the Metropolitan Transportation Authority more than $50 million a year. Let New York governor Andrew Cuomo tell it, the plan helps address issues like homelessness.
“Historically, the N.Y.P.D. did the policing in the transit system, but there has been a dramatic increase in crime in the subway system,” Cuomo was quoted telling reporters recently. “Felonies are up, assaults are up, robberies are up, and I’ve been talking about this for years.”
Unfortunately, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who if nothing else, is usually at least useful as a foil to Cuomo on matters related to public transit, sided with Cuomo.
Earlier this summer, de Blasio said at a press conference about this foolish initiative: “A lot of people who commit fare evasion and the police encounter have a lot of money on them. I think I have a lot of validity on the question of income inequality and how we fight it, but you never heard me say, you know, open up the gates of the subway for free. That’s chaos.”
What chaos is there to be found underground other than the lack of investment in the subway system’s decrepit? According to New York’s outgoing police commissioner, James O’Neill, Cuomo’s comments are “total mischaracterization.” As he sees it, “Over all, crime is down.”
And as the Wall Street Journal reported in late October, MTA officials have confirmed that despite the deployment of hundreds of police officers across the system, fare evasion in the New York City subway has increased.
So, literally, what is the damn point of any of this?
Nonetheless, you can see virtual seas of police officers at a given subway station, taking up space where it isn’t needed — and potentially stealing lives for the most insignificant of reasons.
As Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, explained, “Police cannot solve all of our problems,” saying the likes of Cuomo ought to be pushing for expanded mental health services and supportive housing.
People need jobs that provide livable wages in order to afford housing. Cuomo ought to be introducing policy proposals that go to those aims, and while doing so, find a way to make the MTA less likely to make them late for their job interview and new position. I would like to think the masses will see this footage and walk away with the sentiment that of all the things the subway needs, an extra number of bored police officers scouring the entire subway system looking for Black people to beat down and point guns at under the dubious pretense of fighting the egregious wrong that is fare evasion is the least of our worries.
It is my hope this consensus is reached before we all have to bear witness to the sight of a Black person being shot dead for less than $3.00.