Students, Advocates Say ‘No’ To Heightened NYPD Presence in MTA

MTA Cops
Image by Run With Scissors for Creative Commons.

A crowd of just under 20 students expressed that the presence of cops makes them uncomfortable while debating transit and community safety issues plaguing the city. “We wanted to honor and mark a year of heavy protests in this country starting a year ago this month, around addressing police violence,” said Jaqi Cohen, the campaign director for NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign who spends her time advocating for better subway, bus and accessorized service in New York City. “This has been a challenging year as there’s been a rise in violent crimes against the AAPI community in our city alone.”

As New Yorkers are starting to use public transportation more often with the resumed around-the-clock MTA service, students are questioning whether or not the subway is safe to return to. For the month of March alone, there were 309 complaints for offenses in transit and bus, according to the NYPD.

Acting Transit President Sarah Feinberg pleaded with Mayor Bill de Blasio for weeks to position more cops on trains. “I believe that the best way to ensure the safety of our customers and employees is to take a preventive approach, which places an emphasis on police presence,” said Feinberg, in a letter to the 109th mayor.

MTA Cops Put Person in Handcuffs
Image by Run With Scissors for Creative Commons.

“I feel safe in transit when there are definitely less cops, when it’s a little bit crowded but not too empty,” said one computer science student from Queens College who was not comfortable with sharing his name. He describes his past experiences with police officers as nerve-wracking: “Cops actually called me over and had to check my bag, so I kind of got nervous when that happened, when I was like 15 years old.”

The spike in crime and gun-violence in the region in recent months has become a central theme of the 2021 mayoral race. The incumbent de Blasio announced the expansion of violence interrupters into the 105th precinct on May 5, as part of his Safe Summer NYC plan.

Students’ troubling experiences with the NYPD when they were younger, and what they see on the news, makes them afraid of reaching out to the cops. “In high school I had my bag checked and as a teenager that definitely lays an impact on you like these people think that I’m a danger,” said Valerie Hannibal, the program coordinator for Center for Ethnic, Racial, and Religious Understanding at Queens College.

“It’s not just one race of people cops are killing, it’s people of all races, and if somebody misinterprets your intention, it’s terrifying that somebody can take your life for something that can be so minor,” Hannibal said.

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