Around 1,000 protesters marched through downtown Brooklyn Friday alleging police brutality in the subways. They chanted familiar slogans — “No justice, no peace/F – – k these racist police,” and called for violence. Choruses of “punch a cop in the face/every nation, every race,” were echoed by large banners reading, “Ante Up! Punch that cop!” Cop cars were tagged “NYPD KKK,” and eggs and garbage were thrown at a police cruiser.
The “#FTP” (f - - k the police) action was inspired by two recent incidents where police made arrests on subway platforms. In one, an early-morning melee spilled underground, and cops were filmed using force to break up the fighting and subdue people resisting arrest; one teen shoved a cop and was punched in the face; he’s suing the city for $5 million.
In another, police swarmed Adrian Napier, whom they believed was carrying a gun; they found no weapon but arrested him for jumping the turnstile. The incident, captured on video, received national attention.
“Officers should be working to de-escalate,” former HUD Secretary Julian Castro commented, “not putting dozens of lives at risk over $2.75.” But Napier was apprehended after fleeing the police and escaping into the subway; his arrest was not precipitated by jumping a turnstile.
These incidents took place in the context of a campaign against fare evasion, which has accelerated dramatically following the announcement that local prosecutors would no longer pursue “theft of service” charges against arrestees. Arrests for turnstile-jumping are down about 40 percent since last year. The NYPD now largely writes tickets for the violation, reserving arrest for serial evaders.
Part of Friday’s protest included a mass refusal to pay subway fares, with scores of people clambering over the turnstiles in protest against the “criminalization of poverty” — i.e., enforcement of fare collection. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Ending mass incarceration means challenging a system that jails the poor to free the rich. Arresting people who can’t afford a $2.75 fare makes no one safer and destabilizes our community.”
But almost nobody goes to jail for fare evasion. The Mayor’s Office for Criminal Justice reports 32 jail admissions for fare evasion in the first three months of 2019. Over that same period, 992 people got arrested for fare evasion, and another 18,000 received summonses for theft of service. So a minuscule fraction — about 0.2 percent — of people stopped and charged with jumping turnstiles wound up in jail, likely repeat offenders.
Outrage about fare enforcement exploded after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would hire 500 new police officers to patrol the subways. As he prepares to run a reformist campaign against District Attorney Cyrus Vance in 2021, Manhattan Assemblyman Dan Quart introduced a bill that would cap the penalty for fare evasion at the cost of the fare, in order to “lessen the burden on poor people and prevent them from being unnecessarily tangled up in the criminal-justice system.”
Quart calls fare evasion “an economic decision” and decries the “long-term, adverse effects” that result from involvement with the criminal-justice system — that is, with breaking the law. Lowering the penalty for theft to restitution of the value stolen eliminates any incentive not to steal.
A rising and vocal element among the activist Left favors free transit as a measure for economic and racial justice; certainly the hundreds of people who marched in Brooklyn believe that there should be no fare. Echoing elected officials such as Ocasio-Cortez, one protester commented, “The police have been extremely violent toward black kids for skipping the $2.75 fair when they make millions of dollars off the MTA’s funds.”
Many New York officials stayed silent on Friday’s mass lawbreaking and calls for violence against police. Yet in less than two months, New York’s new criminal-justice reform laws will take effect. Thousands arrested for serious charges will no longer be eligible for even temporary incapacitation but will be issued desk appearance tickets and sent on their way; only the most violent criminals will even be considered bailable.
The city is contemplating enticing people with baseball tickets or gift cards to show up for their court dates. New York appears all too eager to write some new, dark chapters in a war on civility and public order.
This piece originally appeared at the New York Post
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images