‘It terrifies me’: NYC subway riders react to Gov. Hochul’s National Guard deployment


Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to deploy the National Guard and state police to check bags on New York City’s subway system was immediately met with concerns that it was more rooted in politics than public safety.

Then, Hochul said as much on TV.

“I’m also going to demonstrate that Democrats fight crime as well,” she said during an interview on MSNBC on Thursday. “This narrative that Republicans have said and hijacked the story that we’re soft on crime, that we defund the police. No.”

The move was announced on Wednesday and comes amid heightened anxieties around subway crime after a spate of high-profile incidents. But it struck some as an overreaction, as crime statistics have started to trend downward. Hochul argues the presence of armed forces on the subway is meant to have a “psychological” effect that would deter crime and reassure riders.

So far, the National Guard soldiers are only being seen in some major transit hubs. Gothamist visited stations in the Bronx where some high-profile incidents of subway violence have recently unfolded, including the elevated station at Mount Eden Avenue where six people were shot — one fatally — on the platform last month. There were no signs of National Guard members or checkpoints at the entrances to those stations.

The deployment is having a psychological effect there, according to riders, but not the one the governor was presumably aiming for.

“That’s too extreme right there,” said Brian Best, a 59-year-old commuter at the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium station. “I think as pedestrians, if we was more vigilant and looking out for each other, National Guard wouldn’t be necessary. … Machine guns and uniforms, that’s just too much, you know?”

Hochul’s announcement was an apparent attempt to mollify concerns that the subway is becoming less safe, but data from the NYPD paints a more complex picture. Major crimes in the transit system are up by 13% so far this year compared to last year but are roughly on par with pre-pandemic levels, according to data through March 3.

“Transit crime is [down] 12% in the last 5 wks because of extra cops deployed, a planned commitment by @NYPDPC @NYCMayor,” NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell wrote in a social media post on Thursday. “Our transit system is not a ‘war’ zone! Bag checks have been around since 2005???”

Progressives and civil rights groups unleashed a torrent of criticism toward Hochul’s move after she unveiled it. But some appeared to praise or tacitly support it, including Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas.

In her MSNBC appearance, Hochul tried to balance her tough-on-crime message with a promise to protect New Yorkers from being profiled based on their perceived race or ethnicity.

“We care about civil liberties,” she said. “But by God, I’m going to protect their lives and protect their sense of safety and security here in the city of New York.”

Democrats have been under pressure to address voters’ public safety concerns during a critical election year. The party seeks to retake control of the House of Representatives and has identified key districts where Republican incumbents are seen as vulnerable. Republicans have made significant gains statewide in recent years, which have been bolstered by the party’s aggressive messaging on crime and public safety.

But not everybody agrees that an increased law enforcement presence in the subway — on top of an already-bolstered NYPD presence — is the best way to assuage fears around crime.

“Decades of failed policies tell us who gets stopped at ‘random’ bag searches and who would be banned from the subway under the Governor’s plan,” Assemblymember Latrice Walker, whose Brooklyn district includes Brownsville and Ocean Hill, said in a statement on Thursday. “Instead of making our communities safer, these proposals will perpetuate racial discrimination, prevent people from getting to work and to take care of their families, create barriers to education and health care, and destabilize entire communities.”

A group of National Guard soldiers gathered beneath the large American flag hanging in Grand Central Terminal’s main concourse around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday as residents and tourists scurried past.

“It terrifies me that these men have these automatic gun machines,” Bushwick resident Daniela Blini said while waiting for a friend. “God forbid if something go[es] crazy here and they start shooting. I might be one of the ones they kill — to keep the society safe!”

“No, I don’t feel safe,” she added, looking at the soldiers. “No one does.”

When asked why the National Guard was only deployed to busy transit hubs and not areas that have seen recent shootings and stabbings, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber told Gothamist the service members wouldn’t necessarily be in the same place from day to day. He also defended Hochul’s decision.

“I love uniformed officers of all kinds in my stations,” Lieber said. “Why? Because when surveyed, 55% of MTA customers say the one thing that they want that makes them feel safer is to see a uniformed officer.”

Gothamist did not see law enforcement officials inspecting commuters’ bags at three Bronx stations, the Fulton Street station in Lower Manhattan, subway entrances at Grand Central, or the Times Square shuttle.

“I think there are other ways we can create a safe society,” Blini said. “Guns and violence, you know, it’s going to create more guns and violence. It’s going to create more paranoia.”

Giulia Heyward and Jon Campbell contributed reporting.





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