Words and Photo by Jaquelin Bautista
The following article was featured in the December 2019 edition of The Campus.
“No NYPD in the MTA!” shouted the crowds that flooded the subways and streets of downtown Brooklyn. The riots were likely incited by a now viral video of New York City police officers pointing their guns at a full subway cart to detain a teenager that had jumped the turnstile. In an effort to crackdown on fare evasion, police have begun to take action. However, these practices ignore what is at the crux of the issue: not everyone has the $2.75, daily, for both directions, to pay the current MTA fare.
Presently, one in five New Yorkers are living below the poverty line, and the population of the working poor continues to rise. The protest in Brooklyn illuminated and condemned the racist patterns of arrests, with one of the chants being, “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D!”
Between April and June of this year, there has been a total of 15,820 summons and 682 arrests for fare evasion. Despite an overall decline in arrests when compared to last year’s records, it is evident that the Black and Latinx communities are most vulnerable to persecution. Out of the total number of people receiving a summons, 6,110 were Black and 5,154 were Latinx, compared to only 2,846 of their white counterparts. Further, of the total arrests, a disproportionate 414 detainees were Black, 175 were Latinx, and 76 were white.
Of those persecuted, 40.4% were 18-24 years of age, those aged 25-40 made up 37%, and another 15% were between the ages of 41-59. Many of these cases are of students, young adults, mothers, and fathers living paycheck to paycheck – forced to pick and choose where to allocate every last hard-earned dollar.
At the 125th station in Harlem, a mother and her two daughters must wait, hoping to be swiped forward (the term given to earn a ‘swipe’ through the turnstile by a generous subway-goer with an unlimited metro-card).
At the same station, a student looks out for police before jumping the turnstile, the $2.75 fare lying in between him and the train that he takes to get to work.
Another student frustratedly, but honestly, shared with me, “I’m a full-time student, I support myself, and prefer not to have to choose between a $2.75 fare or breakfast”.
“Trust me, I wouldn’t be jumping the metro if I didn’t need to,” stated another student.
Through social media, the city’s youth have adopted practices to protect one another from prosecution. Students’ social media stories warn, “Police at 145,” and “Careful everyone, police at 116th.” People tweet to inform about the legality of such practices as “swiping it forward,” as the phenomenon has been coined. It is through these media platforms that people can express their concerns about recent actions taken to combat fare-evasion and take issue with the resources that have been allocated by the NYPD and MTA.
For example, the MTA hired 500 additional transit police officers, for whom salaries start at $42,000, with the potential to rise as high as $100,368. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. is funding these officers for the first four years, pooling from a $40 million allocation that has been made. While resources allow police officers to profit off the crisis and, by extension, the plight of New York City’s poorest minorities, fare hikes of 4% between 2021 and 2023 can be expected.
Increasing NYPD’s presence in the subways is an insubstantial and ineffective solution that fails to address the deep-rooted issue looming: poverty. These prosecutions will only exacerbate the problem, leaving the most vulnerable communities of New York City, many of them over-populated with poor-working class minorities, to face the brunt of ‘transportation injustice’ exacted by an MTA that is failing us.