Brooklyn Pol to Cuomo: Get Your Anti-Immigrant Cops Out of the Subway

Cops busting a churro vendor at a Brooklyn subway station in 2019. Riders Alliance wants subway security to focus on major crimes and not minor offenses. Photo: Rafael Martinez
Cops busting a churro vendor at a Brooklyn subway station in 2019. Riders Alliance wants subway security to focus on major crimes and not minor offenses. Photo: Rafael Martinez

This morning, a new video appeared online apparently showing four cops aggressively arresting a black young man inside a subway station in Harlem. The video followed the detentions and arrests of two women who sell churros in two Brooklyn subway stations, enforcement that had the support of the mayor. Gov. Cuomo has already announced the redeployment of 500 existing MTA, Triboro Bridge and Tunnel Authority and NYPD cops to exclusively patrol the subways (he said exclusively for “improve public safety, protect workers and combat fare evasion”) — and may be seeking more muscle underground in the form of 500 more cops.

This afternoon, we received the following statement from Council Member Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn — and felt it spoke for many people watching with dismay how our city’s law enforcement is cracking down on people who do not appear to pose a threat to the public.

Photo: NYC Council
Antonio Reynoso. Photo: NYC Council

The recent incidents of excessive use of force and broken windows policing are a predictable outcome of unleashing an additional five hundred officers into the MTA system at a time when we have record low crime rates in the City of New York. This is all the more concerning when the governor has explicitly stated that these officers have been deployed specifically to combat fare beating, an offense that very often stems directly from poverty. The recent arrests of women selling churros in the subway is a particularly egregious example of enforcement targeting vulnerable members of our society for offenses that stem from economic insecurity.

Many of our food vendors are immigrants who may not be able to access vending licenses for a whole host of reasons; however, this should not preclude them from pursuing economic security. It is appalling that the police have chosen to go after individuals who are simply working to support themselves and seriously begs the question as to whether we have too many officers on the street right now. Furthermore, we are in a moment where our immigrant communities are under severe threat — officers should be working to build trust with these folks, not engaging in harassment and intimidation, which only makes us less safe in the long run.

I am calling on the governor to immediately remove these additional officers from the MTA and put that money into actually improving the system. The governor cannot expect the public to pay the fare when the State is refusing to hold up its own financial responsibility. Additionally, the Mayor must remove limitations on the number of street vendors licenses permitted and remove any legal excuse for officers to take enforcement actions against working people.

Finally, we must continue to dismantle the culture of broken windows policing within all our law enforcement agencies. Enforcing crimes of poverty is what has led our country to having the highest incarceration rate in the world. We will never dismantle the carceral state without ending the criminalization of poverty. It is my hope that we can use this moment productively and begin changing the conversation about how we police our city and support our working people.