New York is abuzz with media coverage of a horrifying incident on a Brooklyn subway train. One male rider provoked another, screaming threats and invective. He began attacking the man before the two were separated by some other riders. The aggressor then reached into his jacket and pulled out a handgun, as other riders screamed and ducked for cover. In the resulting struggle, the aggressor’s target managed to wrest the gun from him and shoot him several times. The wounded man is hospitalized in critical but stable condition; the man who seemed to have taken defensive action with the gun is in police custody, though it is not clear if he will face any charges.

It’s only the latest in a string of grim incidents in New York’s subways, but this one has been captured on a grainy cellphone video—and it comes just a week after New York governor Kathy Hochul announced a “five-point plan to rid our subways of people who commit crimes” and deployed uniformed National Guard members into the subway system, ostensibly to back up NYPD officers conducting bag checks at subway entrances.

Many New Yorkers were left scratching their heads as to what the governor hoped to achieve. Despite rising crime on the subways, she made no mention of statistics, saying she was “going to talk about feeling and emotions and the psychology of the city.” She implied that her goal had less to do with actual crime suppression—including incidents like the Brooklyn shooting—than with “getting more people on the subway,” where ridership remains about 70 percent of what it was pre-Covid.

Though her plan brings 750 National Guard soldiers and 250 New York State Police troopers into the subway system, little else in it is noteworthy. It reinforces efforts to install cameras on every train and in conductor cabs; expands the number of subway mental-health response teams; and calls for meetings between transit personnel, police, and prosecutors. The only genuinely new initiative urges legislation to allow judges to ban people convicted of subway assaults from the system.

The plan’s inclusion of 250 Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) police officers to support the NYPD is nothing new. Those officers, who patrol the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and Metro-North Railroad (MNR), are already posted at subway stations connected to commuter rail hubs.

Even using National Guard soldiers isn’t new. For years, Guard members of the Joint Task Force Empire Shield (JTF-ES) have been assigned to major transit hubs—including Penn Station, Grand Central Terminal, the Oculus at the World Trade Center, the 42nd Street Bus Terminal, and the airports—where the public mostly don’t notice them, because they generally work in pairs or are clustered apart from the police officers who also patrol these locations.

The National Guard announcement echoes Hochul’s and Mayor Eric Adams’s October 2022 unveiling of their “three C” program—cops, cameras, and care—which allocated state funds for 1,200 new cameras and NYPD overtime shifts for 300 subway stations, added MTA police to four major transit hubs, and promised additional training for MTA and NYPD officers, as well as emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to deal more effectively with those experiencing homelessness and mental health issues. The major difference is that the city and state announced the “three C” plan jointly, in contrast to Hochul’s recent go-it-alone inclusion of the National Guard and State Police.

Governor Hochul obviously intended this to be a major policy announcement. Her press event at the city’s Transit Rail Control Center included National Guard troops and MTA chairman and CEO Janno Lieber. The governor followed up her announcement with a round of media interviews.

Conspicuously absent from the press conference and many of these subsequent media events was Mayor Adams or any high-ranking NYPD officials or city administrators. Hochul stressed that the plan was a city–state endeavor, but NYPD chief of patrol John Chell seemed to undercut this message when he posted on social media, “Our transit system is not a ‘war’ zone!” Chell also touted NYPD efforts that he claimed had resulted in a 12 percent drop in crime in the past five weeks.

As with many other exercises in security theater, Hochul’s plan is ill-defined. According to the governor, National Guard members are there only to check the bags of those entering the subway for weapons. But if, as she also stated, the Guard will be working under NYPD supervision, how are they providing additional eyes and ears? It’s not even clear who is checking the bags. In the first few days of the new initiative, the Guard members were often seen standing off to the side as cops conducted the bag checks.

In any case, it makes little sense to have Guard members check bags. They lack the authority to make arrests and would need to call over a police officer even to question a bag carrier. The New York Times has already advised straphangers that they cannot be detained if they refuse a bag check, though they can be refused entry to that station. In addition, since only bags are being checked, a person could easily transfer a weapon to his pocket or waistband, which are not being searched. Hochul confirmed that barring entry to those carrying weapons was the major goal of the exercise. But if one is refused entry to a station, he can try a different entry or a different station, or he can take a bus. The Brooklyn subway incident confirms that checking bags at a few select stations—regardless of who is assigned to that task—will not prevent guns from entering the system.

It also reinforces why so many New Yorkers, who understood that the governor’s plan was unlikely to keep guns off platforms and trains, reacted so negatively to seeing Guard members armed with military weapons (M4 carbines) in the subway. A member of Hochul’s team stated that “immediately after the deployment” Guard members were told to work without those weapons, though it took at least 24 hours for some of the Guard to be seen without them. Even here, confusion persisted. Two Guard members, one observed carrying an M4 on the LIRR concourse, explained to a reporter that since long guns had been banished from bag-check areas, he and his partner would just stand far away from those areas.

It’s unclear where and for how long Guard members will be deployed. Governor Hochul said that they were being assigned only to the busiest stations, but Lieber, who professed his love for “uniformed officers of all kinds in my stations” and cited a survey in which 66 percent of MTA customers “say the one thing that they want that makes them feel safer is to see a uniformed officer,” stated that the Guard might be assigned only to where crimes had recently occurred.

Many New Yorkers are wondering how to interpret the discordant messaging from the mayor and the governor. In his March 7 “Hear from Eric” email, Adams touted a 15.4 percent reduction in public transit crimes in February 2024 from their levels during the same period in 2023. He also promised to ensure that New York continues to have the “best subway system in the world” by putting more NYPD officers in stations and by reinstituting bag checks, without any mention of the National Guard, State Police, or MTA Police.

Though Lieber rightly notes that New Yorkers want to see more police in the transit system, they have also indicated that they are frightened by the camouflage-clad National Guard personnel. State assembly member Emily Gallagher, a Brooklyn democratic socialist, called Hochul’s move a “ham-fisted and authoritarian response” that “validates G.O.P. propaganda about urban lawlessness in an election year.” Many New Yorkers likely agree with Public Advocate Jumaane N. Williams, who accused Hochul of posturing and “militarizing the subway” to look tough on crime.

Williams may be on to something. Speaking to MSNBC, Hochul vowed “to demonstrate that Democrats fight crime as well,” and rejected the Republican “narrative” that “we’re soft on crime, that we defund the police.” How long she will maintain that stance may depend less on crime statistics than on the opinions of New Yorkers and their left-leaning political leaders.

Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua via Getty Images


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