Money for Subways, Not Racist Police

Report from the demonstration by Sabrina Chapa, Nicole Karsch, and Thomas Hummel. New York Democratic Governor Cuomo has called for 500 additional MTA cops, at a cost of $250 million to a Metropolitan Transit Authority already facing a deficit of  $426-million. The move, combined with recent incidents of police action against people of color on the subway, has produced widespread opposition and two large demonstrations which faced increasing police repression. Below is an eyewitness report from the Harlem demonstration of Friday, November 22nd. 

Police violence is terrorizing working class black and brown people on the subway. Brutality against people of color on the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) is well documented, from tackling kids selling candy and arresting churro ladies to punching and pulling guns on black riders. These incidents are frequent, with a new video or image emerging nearly daily in NYC. The accelerated violence comes after the state decided to spend $250 million to hire 500 new MTA cops. The state would rather spend money violently criminalizing black people and poverty than spend it subsidizing a reduced or free fare. That money could also be spent repairing and updating the subway’s crumbling infrastructure.

Last Friday night, thousands of people gathered in Harlem to stand up to this violence. It was the second FTP (Fuck the Police) Emergency Action Against the NYPD & MTA. The first took place in Brooklyn on November 1st, shortly after the 500 new cops were hired and the violent repression began. Organizers of the action called for the removal of the NYPD from the subways, an end to jails, and the use of those funds to fix the MTA and make it free, as well as to repair NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority). The action was organized by “a city-wide coalition of groups who share a politics of abolition, reparations, decolonization, community self-defense, and community self-determination,” according to the event description.

There was an extremely high police presence in the area. By 5pm, the streets for blocks surrounding 125th St. were lined with police vans. Hundreds of officers were on the streets riding bikes and motor-scooters, with bundles of zip ties hanging menacingly from their belts. All the nearby subway stations were barricaded by metal gates and multiple officers. After initially gathering at the Harriot Tubman statue on 122nd Street, the crowd moved to Adam Clayton Plaza where the action began about 6:00. Announcements were shouted from organizers and echoed by a crowd of at least 1,000 using the “people’s mic,” including points about accessibility, risk of arrest, and safety. Demonstrators left the plaza, marching on the sidewalks, attempting to take the streets to threats of arrest by the police. The action continued to grow as people joined along the way, disrupting traffic for blocks at a time. People chanted:, “How do you spell racist? N.Y.P.D.,” and “Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.” Some signs read, “Disarm the Police” and “Why does NYPD hate churro ladies?”.

The NYPD responded with crowd control tactics, dragging off individuals and aggressively pushing demonstrators. New York Police are never friendly to demonstrators, but when a group made up largely of people of color march through Harlem specifically against the police, the violence of the state becomes dangerously apparent. After being violently pushed out of the street while blocking the road at 155th and Madison, the crowd split into separate marches. One group took a bridge to the Bronx which the police barricaded and shut down. The other stayed on the streets of Harlem. Police aggression toward the crowd escalated, tackling demonstrators, leading to the arrest of 58 people and 4 hospitalizations. Conservative news reported that around 300 attended. This is false. Eyewitnesses and participants state that there were thousands in attendance. Demonstrators  marched in both Harlem and the Bronx until approximately 8:45 PM. The NYPD continued to shut down service for stations in the area for the rest of the night. Several MTA trains and buses were rerouted, delayed, and shut down. As of Saturday afternoon the 125th Street station was still closed.

As Decolonize this Place reported, activists cut off the metal arm of a turnstile at the East 149th St. and 3rd Avenue subway stop in the Bronx. 

This action took place in the context of a global uprising. In the past few months, millions have taken to the streets in Lebanon, Chile, Iran, and beyond. People in the demonstration compared what is happening in New York to the action which sparked the Chilean uprising. When President Sebastián Piñera attempted to increase the fare on the metro he was met with subway occupations, mass fare evasions and the organization of enormous protests in which 22 metro stations were burned to the ground. The police responded with characteristic brutality, which only increased the resistance, and the pressure on the state was high enough that the fare hikes were reversed. The revolt in Chile is ongoing, and has grown to include strikes and a range of more radical demands. 

In the fight against capitalism, we often have to fight tooth and claw for each inch of freedom and agency to determine the world we create and recreate with our labor. It also means that we have to struggle against the impositions the state and capital make upon that freedom. This struggle is an example of how we should fight.