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NYPD Out of the Subway

In the past week there have been two horrendous examples of police brutality on the subway. We do have the right to a clean and safe subway. The cops won’t help with that. 

Tatiana Cozzarelli

October 28, 2019
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Photo by Natan Dvir

Late on Saturday night, a horrific video of police brutality emerged online. 10 police officers, rushing into a subway, guns drawn, yelling. A black man sitting on the seat, terrified, hands up. The passengers, mostly Black, rushing to get out of the way, also terrified. 10 police officers pulling the man to the ground and cuffing him. The police claimed that they had been alerted that the man had a gun. He was unarmed. 

Exactly one week before, another video had emerged— this time of police brutalizing Black teenagers. One cop punches a teen in the face. Moments later, another teen gets punched in the face by the cop. The person taking the video yells continuously, “You saw that?! He didn’t do nothin’. He didn’t do nothin”— his voice full of pain and despair as the children are dragged to the ground and arrested by several police officers. 

And this is just what was caught on tape and made viral in one week in New York City.

Without a doubt, there is more to come. 

Andrew Cuomo has hired 500 new police officers to fix “quality of life” issues on the subway. He said, “A customer has a right, a rider has a right, not to be harassed, not to be threatened, not to be subjected to intolerable conditions…They paid their fare— they have rights too. They should feel safe, it should be clean, and it should be comfortable, and it should be on time.”

We do have the right to a clean and safe subway. The cops won’t help with that. 

Whose quality of life is Cuomo looking out for? Clearly not the lives of the Black people who are brutalized by the police, both on the subway and around New York City.

And certainly not of the working class people-mostly of color-who have to deal with a subway system that has been so completely under-funded that we deal with delays, derailments, rats and station closures. 

Of course, Cuomo hasn’t actually ridden the subway since 2016, so he wouldn’t know. 

What “quality of life” means for him is posting 3-4 cops at subway entrances to stop “fare evasion”. Quality of life for Cuomo doesn’t mean actually increasing the quality of life for New Yorkers— it means the criminalization, racism and police brutality that we saw this week It means criminalizing Blackness and poverty, finding people to fill the four new jails that the New York City Council just voted for. 

It means further criminalization of homeless people, a population in which Black people are disproportionately represented. Cuomo issued a directive two months ago to “solve” subway homelessness. Of course, the solution didn’t involve actually providing homeless people one of the thousands of empty apartments in the city. And of course, Cuomo’s “solution” involved a partnership with none other than the NYPD.

Cuomo claimed that there was a “staggering” 54 percent increase in subway delays caused by homeless people, causing him to create this new NYPD-MTA task force. The truth is that in all of 2018 there were 659 delays (an average of 54 delays per month) related to homeless people, compared to 57,774 total weekday delays per month. Clearly, the MTA’s problem is not the fact that homeless people ride it: it is the fact that it has been so vastly underfunded and is falling to pieces. 

Over and over, this is the policy of the State. When there is a problem— and the dysfunctionality of the subway is indeed a problem— the response is criminalization of homeless people, poor people, Black folks and other people of color. 

The absurdity of it all is that the quasi militarization of the subway system is meant to curb fare evasion… where someone doesn’t pay $2.75 for a subway ride. The police respond with that level of brutality because of $2.75, while all of those capitalists who evaded paying taxes on their billions don’t face any consequences. No one is going to throw them on the ground or draw a gun on them. 

While the state says there isn’t any money to pay CUNY adjuncts $7k per course, or says there isn’t money to adequately fix the subway, there is always money for more cops and more prisons. 

What Now?

In both cases of police brutality, the victims have been charged. In the first case of the man sitting on the subway, he was charged with “theft of service”— of fare evasion. In the second case, a 16-year-old girl has a reckless endangerment charge and three 18-year-olds were charged with resisting arrest. All charges should be dropped against these victims of police violence, and in fact, the NYPD should pay for the physical and psychological damage caused. 

The NYPD— like all police— have shown time and time again that they are a terrorist force to be used against Black, brown, poor and disabled people. They are the biggest danger to our quality of life. Over and over again, the state has shown that Black people can be killed with complete impunity. The police have no place on the subway. People have the right to get home or to work in peace.We have to fight to get the cops off the subway. 

In the end,  it’s not just the NYPD. The police are a terrorist force everywhere they exist, and they should be abolished.

In the end, it’s not just the cops. It’s also that the subway should be a free public service that people can ride for free. It shouldn’t be run by Governor Cuomo, who hasn’t actually ridden the subway in years and who wants to criminalize the people who ride it. The subway should be run by the MTA workers and the working class people who ride the subway every day. 

Follow Chile’s Example

As I write this, the Chilean youth are showing the way forward: just last week when the President attempted to increase subway fares, they took over the subway stations, refused to pay and organized mass protests. It was these subway protests that sparked the national movement that threatens to topple the President. It was these subway protests that were met with horrible police and military violence, leading to at least 18 deaths and countless injured. Yet another example of how the cops are our enemies.

And it is an example of how we should fight. Within 24 hours of the protests, the Chilean President had rescinded the fare hike. That is because when we organize and when we fight, we are unstoppable.

On Friday, this action is being called in NYC. See you on the streets. 

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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