What’s the safest city in the world, you ask? According to Business Insider, it’s not New York City. But NYC did manage to rank 10th safest city out of the top 20 largest cities in the world. New York was the only U.S. city to make the list. It stands to reason that with the steady decline in crime the number of arrests and police interactions we have as residents of NYC would naturally wane.
However, in the past five years, the number of arrests and summonses has gone up, especially in our subway system. Thanks to the “Broken Windows” theory of policing—the City Hall supported, but widely disproved theory of handling crime—officers continue to target low-level crimes with no proof that this will prevent serious crimes such as murder and assault.
For NYC residents, the predatory and racist nature of this policy was apparent in 2015, the very year NYC reached its height in safety. According to the latest figures, “theft of service,” or “farebeating” on the subways, was the most common type of arrest made by the NYPD. Ninety-two percent of those arrested were non-white. Many, if not most of those farebeating arrests, were shown to have occurred only when officers, usually in plain clothing, hid on subway platforms outside of people’s line of vision until a person of low income attempted to board a train, sans fare.
A surprising number of these arrests result in jail time, along with an arraignment where the judge often imposes a fine that the defendant likely cannot pay; only adding to the economic stress of our communities. This exponential increase in the number of poor residents locked up simply for not being able to afford the $2.75 to board the train has cost the city over $15 million in court and police costs.
New Yorkers are quickly losing hope in a practice that has shown to benefit no one but the precincts and politicians. That’s why on August 2, and again on August 15, members of the #SwipeItForward initiative embarked on a task to inform and empower New Yorkers against the predatory practices of City Hall and 1 Police Plaza designed to exploit and divide us.
The #SwipeItForward initiative is a collective of community organizers, activists, and concerned citizens who have been exposing and spotlighting the NYPD’s abusive and discriminatory tactics on our subways. We challenge the ruling class’s brutality by offering free swipes onto the subway and declaring loudly that the real crime being committed on the subways is the outrageous price we pay and the incarceration of the poorest among us simply for trying to move around our own city. We hand out buttons and flyers encouraging others to #SwipeItForward as a way to stand against City Hall’s vicious policing practices and also encourage the idea that transportation should be affordable and accessible to all.
Our August 2 event in Harlem was one of high spirits. Commissioner Bratton, pioneer of Broken Windows, had just announced his resignation in front of a sea of protesters at City Hall Park. A few media sources from Pix 11 and Telemundo were present, and the NYPD had set up their usual post on the other side of the turnstile at St. Nicholas and 125th Street. Our presence was immediately unwanted by the MTA booth employee, who refused to fill up our designated “free swipe” Metrocards. However, the NYPD was forced by the organizers to explain to the clerk that no laws were being broken.
All along, activists engaged with members of their community and the air of camaraderie among the people and the organizers was clear. Despite the average busy New Yorker’s tendency to walk fast and avoid eye contact, many slowed to listen and vocalize their support, and a few others turned to do—as the initiative encouraged—“swipe it forward”.
I spoke to one neighborhood man who described having a current open case, and possibly a warrant, for fare evasion due to not being able to pay the hefty fine that starts out at $100, then increases by $25 every week. Another citizen lamented how the police’s presence especially concerned him during school dismissal, where they target children whose student cards do not work.
I can attest to this wariness myself, as I once witnessed a student being body slammed, then break into seizure, as he was targeted and searched by NYPD officers while convulsing. The student card on him was found to have been just used. They had profiled him illegally.
The best feedback from the event was of citizens who openly opposed the discriminatory Broken Windows and admitted to swiping people onto trains regularly. Many who did, did so at their own peril, as they were unsure if doing so was illegal. That kind of dedication to justice is what the Party for Socialism and Liberation is about and what our community calls for. The #SwipeItForward posters hang from my local Harlem YMCA bulletin as a daily reminder of what you can do to involve yourself in this campaign and let your voice be heard.