The subway attack is the latest tragedy as New York City fails to keep its residents safe.
From a once well-admired transit system to one avoided by the mayor himself, yesterday’s horrific rush hour shooting on the New York City subway epitomizes what has unfortunately come to define the city. Now, with at least 10 riders shot and injuries sustained by many more, it is clear that public safety must be made New York City’s highest priority. Not by “defunding the police” or refusing to prosecute clearly violent crimes, but through a commitment to the timeless law enforcement motto: protect and serve.
Yesterday’s shooting is just the latest event in a string of tragedies that have plagued New York City’s subway system this year. Riders have witnessed disgusting acts of lewdness; victims have been smeared with feces and smashed over the head with glass bottles; there have been slashings, hate crime attacks and stabbings; and Michelle Go, an innocent Asian woman, was pushed to her death while waiting for her train.
As New York recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, over 3 million straphangers still rely on weekday rides as their primary mode of transportation—a number far lower than pre-pandemic levels of subway ridership. If leaders and law enforcement cannot stop the surge in crimes, especially when many of those crimes are violent or otherwise wholly unacceptable in nature, it’s difficult to imagine how the city will return to anywhere near those pre-pandemic levels.
A recent poll shows that 74 percent of New York City subway commuters say safety on transit has gotten worse, and an overwhelming 40 percent of those polled who live in Manhattan say they are considering moving out of the city. To date, New York City’s subway has seen a 65 percent increase in overall crime this year. The grim statistics confirm the same narrative anecdotal tragedies and public opinion polls spell out: Our current tactics are failing.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) Transit Bureau is charged with ensuring the safety of the busiest metropolitan rail system in the United States. With more than 665 mainline track miles spanning 472 subway stations, it is a challenge to keep every rider safe. Earlier this year, unable to ignore the increased crime on the subway, NYPD Chief Jason Wilcox, who leads the NYPD Transit Bureau, vowed to “reinforce” police presence throughout the subways.
Not soon after, New York City Mayor Eric Adams released his Subway Safety Plan, detailing how the current administration will address public safety concerns and support individuals suffering from homelessness and serious mental illness. Mayor Adams, a 22-year veteran of law enforcement, was elected last year after campaigning largely on returning the city to a focus on public safety.
But before these vows, commitments and plans, came a sensible system upgrade: the installation of security cameras in all of the city’s subway stations. The installations were completed by early September of 2021—meaning that every station was equipped, compared to the less than 60 percent equipped at the start of that same year. Common sense would hold that security camera footage is critical to expedient solving of crimes committed in subway stations.
However, security cameras are only good if they are functional and the cameras in the 36th Street station during the shooting yesterday morning were not, which forced police to rely on gathered footage from the NYPD’s own situational awareness cameras, neighborhood business and residential video footage, and witness accounts in their efforts to identify and track the suspect’s whereabouts in the city.
While this is still an ongoing investigation, the NYPD recently arrested Frank R. James, who is connected to the U-Haul van allegedly involved in the attack. According to Breon S. Peace, the U.S. attorney for New York’s Eastern District, James has been charged with committing “a terrorist act on a mass transit system.”
There is no single solution that will keep New Yorkers safe. However, the status quo couldn’t prevent this tragic shooting, nor the other despicable acts and violent crimes New Yorkers are suffering through every day. It’s time to take criminal justice and the safety of New Yorkers seriously.