important needs

I believe we need an Important Panel here in New York City. I have to take the subway this coming week and frankly, I’m anxious about it already. I would be very grateful if someone with the resources and social wherewithal would call a panel and provide some tools for those of us who have to take the subway to get around.

As many are aware, the NYC mayor and his administration appear to have doubled down on their desire to militarize the subway cars and subway stations in the city. This is not a new problem, of course, but it has become pressingly relevant. I don’t think we are prepared.

I’ve taken the subway on two days in the past two weeks. Fifty percent of those days, meaning one day, I was entangled in an awful incident with pigs on my car. At a stop, four cops came on with their guns and body cams and began harassing a bedraggled man sitting across the aisle from me. He was minding his business in the corner seat, and one of the four approached him and demanded to know if he needed a hospital or other services, while the other three cops spread themselves throughout the car in order to prove menacing to the rest of us. At one point, three of the cops were standing next to me and turning their body cams toward me. I grew extremely angry, as I tend to do around cops, and my heart rate began to rise. I stood up, as I like to do on subway cars, to prevent myself from growing more upset.

Just like the presence of the police on the train did, I’m sure my behavior in this already-escalated situation caused changes, both known and unknown. For example, one of the consequences of my standing up on the train was that the Lead Cop lunged forth at me, and in response I could only stretch my arms up above my head, yawn, and shake my ass a little bit. While I have my doubts about my initial choice to stand up on the train while the cops were there—because, maybe, absolute stillness is better than any motion that might give the cops the feeling of license to kill—once a group of young guys started horsing around a few feet away, I knew at that point that I had to hold the line and see my distractatory techniques through to completion so the cops would stay focused on me.

When I later recounted this horrible scenario to a friend, he wondered if maybe the strong cop presence was related to the widespread reports in the news of the person who, that week, was out murdering homeless people. I thought this was a fair question, especially considering my friend had lived in the NYC shelter system for a year and has deep insights into its operations, but I also feel that the answer was no. No, I don’t think the cops were there only because that was a week they were trying to stop the guy who was targeting people sleeping in the street. I think that the mayor has been openly targeting homeless people for weeks.

I really want to stress that this is not a new experience, only more pressing by the day. Last year, I was halfway apprehended by cops when I danced over a turnstile in Crown Heights. Fortunately, with the assistance of a nearby Cool Mom, I was able to outsmart the pigs, escape their grasp, and flee, though I still avoided that station for a few weeks after. Now, with increased drone surveillance, facial recognition, and who knows what else, the mere use of the subway to move around the city is a serious, consistent cause for trepidation.

What is being done to organize against this militarization? How should we make decisions about how to handle situations like this, especially when we know that so many fellow subway riders (though not a majority by any means) are inclined to welcome cop presence?

I have little to contribute in the way of expertise, in part since I have never been arrested, and also because I don’t know all the best practices for encrypted communication (among other reasons).

I would like to offer a few questions that I would appreciate being answered:

  1. What are our priorities, as transit riders, when cops are present?
  2. How does one de-escalate a situation? Is there ever a time for escalation?
  3. How do we protect the most vulnerable in the car? On the platform?
  4. What do we different people do when someone is arrested on the subway?
  5. For people like me who react strongly to cops, how do we maintain self-control and keep our cool in situations of high stress and confrontation?