Activists talk fare evasion arrests

Stephon Johnson | 6/1/2017, 4:04 p.m.
Last week, elected officials and activists directed New Yorkers’ attention to the increase in fare evasion arrests on New York ...
Handcuffs

Last week, elected officials and activists directed New Yorkers’ attention to the increase in fare evasion arrests on New York City subways. With the implementation of yet another fare hike, many low-income and rent-burdened city dwellers have taken to jumping the turnstile or somehow finding their way onto the train without paying because they can’t afford the fare.

But fare evasion arrests in 2017 have disproportionately affected Black and Latino New Yorkers. According to elected officials and activists, from January 2017 through mid-March, 5,137 arrests were made for fare evasion. Ninety percent of those arrested were Black and Latino. Last year, fare evasion was No. 2 in arrest charges (26,000 people) in the five boroughs.

Activists have called out New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, in an election year, to pull away from fare evasion arrests and fines. When the AmNews talked to Nick Malinowski of VOCAL-NY, he said that public transportation should be for all New Yorkers and not a few, but fare increases have led to desperate measures by some just to get to work.

“New York City is a city of great inequality and the public transportation system, which costs money to access, should be available to everyone in the public because there are many who can’t afford to use the train,” he told the AmNews. “There are people who walk three hours to work or to court because they can’t afford the train.”

The current proposal being pushed by some activists, led by the Community Service Society, is for the city to fund $50 million worth of reduced fare MetroCards. “They have half-price for school-aged kids and the City Council, as I understand it, is very supportive of that campaign,” said Malinowski.

But the mayor hasn’t put it in his budget, stating that the city doesn’t have the money available to fund reduced-fare MetroCards for low-income people.

In the meantime, Black and Latino New Yorkers are being targeted at subway stations in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods, according to Bronxites for NYPD Accountability Co-Founder Shannon Jones. Jones’ organization (also known as Why Accountability), engaged in a publicized “Swipe It Forward” campaign in 2016, giving free MetroCard swipes to patrons at certain stations around the city. But Jones sometimes camps out on her own at certain stations to check on police activity in regard to fare evaders.

“It came out of our observation of activity that there was predatory policing by NYPD in the transit system,” said Jones. “Police officers hiding in broom closets and behind information booths in order to pull fare beaters. We found this to be persistent and pervasive in stations that Black and Brown people frequent.”

Jones said that Why Accountability, along with organizations such as Coalition to End Broken Windows, New Yorkers Against Bratton and Black Lives Matter NYC have observed this type of policing at the stations at149th and Third Avenue in The Bronx on the 2 and 5 lines, Utica Avenue in Brooklyn on the 4 line, Far Rockaway-Mott Avenue in Queens on the A line and 125th and Lexington Avenue on the 4 line.

“Tale of two cities,” said Jones. “Why is it that the NYPD hides out against Black and Brown people in the train station? Why is that permissible? Why is that police practice is accepted by the mayor?”

“You have people in handcuffs who couldn’t afford the two dollars to ride the train,” added Malinowski. “We will always be fighting for access to public transportation for everyone. That’s something that we as a city have to grapple with. One of the questions New Yorkers should ask themselves is ‘Should everyone have access to public transportation or just the people who can afford it?’”