You’d be hard-pressed to find New Yorkers who’ve been used more as political punching bags than the homeless. While politicians have pointed fingers over who’s at fault for the city’s homelessness crisis, some tabloids have often painted our disadvantaged neighbors as nuisances.
That’s why it was disheartening to see that the Transport Workers Union has called for more police to kick sleeping or inebriated transit riders, some of them ostensibly homeless, off the subways when they get to the end of a line. This came after an MTA worker was filmed dragging a sleeping passenger across the floor of a G train.
The TWU’s call for more police intervention is the most recent appeal for increased policing of the subways. It was, after all, the subways where ex-mayor Rudy Giuliani and former top cop Bill Bratton first rolled out broken-windows policing, which calls for aggressive enforcement against quality-of-life offenders, like the homeless. This philosophy expanded to target, among other things, subway dancing and even street vending.
Staten Island’s Eric Garner died in 2014 after a police officer put him in a chokehold for selling “loosie” cigarettes. His death was the product of zero-tolerance policing. In fact, demands like the TWU’s would fuel further aggression against the homeless and would heighten the potential for police brutality.
MTA workers have difficult jobs. They shouldn’t have to be bouncers for the subway system — but neither should cops. Solutions for these instances, much like homelessness overall, may not be obvious but we need to curtail our collective addiction to police. In most cases, a sleeping homeless person or someone who’s had too many drinks needs a tap on the shoulder to clear a train. When that doesn’t work, unarmed trained professionals, like substance abuse counselors or social workers, would be more effective than police.
There was a time when labor unions were class conscious and shared a broader vision for social justice. Unfortunately, TWU is the perfect example of union tunnel vision that is only focused on its members and shares little, if any, solidarity with some of the most marginalized in our city.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.