New York Governor Andrew Cuomo believes one of the pivotal social problems beseeching New York City is public transit fare evasion. With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support, the city employed 500 police officers with the task of patrolling the transit systems to protect riders, combat fare evasion, and respond to emergencies. A perceived increase in crime on the subway underlies the city’s reinforcement of “broken windows” policing. Whether or not fare evasion is the pivotal problem affecting society, numerous young Black men have been targeted and suffered the brunt of quality of life infractions. Governor Cuomo’s broken windows policing plan incriminates the poor and is no longer about keeping the transit systems safe or maintaining the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA); rather, it has become a symbolic opportunity for the New York City Police Department (NYPD) to flex its muscles during a time when crime rates are at a historic low. The consequences of the policy are more about harassing young Black and Latino men rather than actually keeping commuters safe.
Adrian Napier, a 19-year-old Black teen, had his hands up while several police officers pointed a gun at him on October 25, 2019. They tackled, searched and frisked him, eventually charging him with “theft of services for hopping over a turnstile.” The NYPD alleged that they received a report that Napier allegedly was carrying a gun. Soon after, officers approached him and Napier allegedly slipped past the turnstile. Nearly a dozen officers surrounded Napier in a train car while onlookers were left in shock and horror, grappling for their safety amidst the swarm of military-grade weapons that could have been deployed had Napier not stood still with his hands up.
Napier’s experience is one of too many stories highlighting police brutality, which is an endemic problem in New York City. As of 2019, there have been 11 fatal shootings by NYPD officers. The movement for police accountability has yet to reach its zenith but has made some progress this past year with Daniel Pantaleo, the officer responsible for killing Eric Garner in 2015, finally being terminated nearly five years after Garner’s death. In order to avoid these deaths, the city needs to cut ties with broken windows policies and adopt community-based practices to ensure the protection of its most vulnerable populations.
While the MTA is distraught at the $215 million loss in revenue for this year, the number is merely a speck compared to the MTA’s expected budget of $25 billion, which is based on the recent state budget that approved a congestion pricing plan. In addition, the MTA has decided to spend $249 million on new police officers to save the $215 million it lost which highlights that the MTA clearly has money to spend. Despite the MTA’s outcry that fare evaders are the prime culprit for revenue losses, the reality is that there is no need for an outcry. The number of tax dollars and resources used to solve the perceived issue of fare evasion is being wasted on a farce. If only those resources were put to better use to hold police accountable in wrongful killings and other pervasive problems in New York City, including homelessness, affordable housing, and food insecurity.
The framing of fare evasion as a huge problem only masks the underlying issue that the city is not able or well-equipped to tackle homelessness and the other aforementioned ills of society, thus finding it easier to digest fare evasion as a problem that the city thinks it can solve. If the city started shifting their attention to real problems affecting the city’s most vulnerable populations, there might be real and positive results for all New Yorkers.