Hundreds of residents of New York City in the United States came out in protest over the weekend against police violence and high fares in the city’s iconic subway system. The protests were in response to several incidents on Friday, in which police violently confronted passengers suspected of fare evasion.
In the most recent incident, a group of armed policemen charged at a subway train in a bid to catch a man suspected of fare evasion and possessing a gun. In the video that has since gone viral on social media, the man, who calmly responded to the police commands, was forcefully pinned down by multiple officers, while by-standers inside the subway coach were seen distressed, fearing gun fire.
This was only the latest in several instances of disproportionate reactions from the police, especially targeting people of color, for fare evasion, which, at best, is a minor misdemeanor that should only attract a fine.
Protesters also highlighted the exorbitant fares charged by the subway system, which costs an average New Yorker USD 2.75-3 for a single trip, and is currently the highest in the United States. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which operates the city’s public transport network, has been running into losses recently because of the plummeting investment by the city’s administration. The MTA has sought to remedy this by hiking the fares, adding further pressure on the city’s poorer residents.
Dozens of people were jumping turnstiles at subway stations, refusing to pay for the service in protest. Much of the anger of the protesters was directed against the increase in police deployment inside the subway stations, along with the expansion of surveillance of the subway network. Anti-NYPD banners and placards were prominent at the protests, including one that read “Punch that cop! NYPD out of MTA!”
Last month, the MTA hired over 500 additional transit police personnel to deal with fare evasion by subway passengers. In the meanwhile, cameras were installed at every turnstile in certain stations. This, coupled with the fact that the police violence seems to be disproportionately directed against people of color, has strengthened demands for police reform.
Even though some instances of confrontation with the police and vandalism of public transport infrastructure were reported, the protests were largely peaceful and non-violent. The Democratic congresswoman representing the city, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, extended her support to the protesters. She tweeted, “ending mass incarceration means challenging a system that jails the poor to free the rich.”
She added in the same tweet that “arresting people who can’t afford a $2.75 fare makes no one safer and destabilizes our community. New Yorkers know that, (and) they’re not having it, and they’re standing up for each other.”