This year, New York City has expanded police presence in the subways in the hopes of driving down overall crime. To some degree, they have succeeded. According to a New York Times article, “There were 1,774 major felonies during the first nine months of this year, down from 1,799 during the same period last year.” Is this decrease enough to justify the large increase in police presence, especially considering the cost of employing these officers would add to the already strained budget of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority?
Unfortunately, police presence on the subway has also given way to violence, resulting in pushback from New York City locals. Last week, a troubling viral video was disseminated, in which officers breaking up a fight punched two teenage bystanders. Another incident featured a large group of officers frightening riders by pointing their guns and running onto the train to arrest a 19-year-old who was incorrectly thought to have a gun. The suspect, Adrian Napier, had jumped the turnstile and run onto the train when the police approached him, but sat on the train with his hands up when they entered the car to arrest him, charging him with theft of services. Despite his clear cooperation, they forced him to the ground and searched him. Angered by the extreme measures these officers took, New Yorkers protested on Nov. 1 with a march that included jumping the turnstiles.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voiced her support for the protestors, condemning America for criminalizing poverty. Among the replies on Twitter there were people accusing the congresswoman of encouraging lawlessness, blatant insults, and overwhelmingly a question of whether people really don’t have the $2.75 to pay the fare. However unimaginable it may be to that random Twitter user, some people—including the significant number of homeless people seeking shelter in the subway system itself—cannot afford the fare, which is why evasion is so commonplace.
A document released by the M.T.A. suggests that an increased number of police would direct homeless people to shelters and provide them with proper resources. But will this actually move us toward solving the problem of homelessness or just create more issues and more police altercations with homeless individuals who don’t want the help of the police?
All in all, this proposal to increase police presence on the subways and the reactions to it—and the reactions to those reactions—has brought to light a host of thoughts. Primarily, as Americans and as people who constantly want to express our opinions, many lack a willingness to try to understand. Automatically assuming that someone must have enough money to pay a $2.75 subway fare shows a blatant absence of empathy.
This hypothetical person up for judgement—who does actually exist—has their own complex financial situation involving employment status, family members to support, and need for transportation several times a day. Those are only three things out of all the components that comprise someone’s intricate financial situation. No internet troll can claim to know all of this about anyone, so this assumption that avoiding the subway fare is lazy, greedy, or selfish is closed-minded and exposes the greater issue of the lack of empathy we have in general.
This chain of events in recent weeks, from police brutality to protests to national responses, should hopefully motivate us to look beyond only solving immediate problems, and considering the possibility that there is a growing need for reform in our treatment of the poor and in the policing system as a whole.