Two viral videos of physical altercations involving city police in the subway system have led to calls to cancel the hiring of new MTA cops.
City and state elected officials joined advocates outside City Hall on Monday to demand Mayor Bill de Blasio take punitive action against officers involved in the unrelated incidents and for Governor Andrew Cuomo end his push to add 500 additional MTA police to fight “quality of life” issues like homelessness and fare evasion.
“Police cannot solve all of our problems,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who added he would instead like to see expanded mental health services and supportive housing.
In one of the videos circulated on social media, at least 10 officers — including several with guns drawn — are seen storming a stopped train at the Franklin Avenue station in Brooklyn to tackle and arrest a man sitting in a train car with his hands raised.
“Call my mom,” the man can be heard saying as the cops approached the train.
A second clip, filmed the same day at the Jay Street-MetroTech station in Downtown Brooklyn, depicts a scene of officers struggling to apparently subdue several young people on a subway platform. One officer can be seen punching one of the men in the face.
Both incidents involved commuters of color.
“[The new police officers] are not going to fix our crumbling MTA system,” said Yehudah Webster, from the group Jews for Racial & Economic Justice. “They’re only going to contribute to the harm and trauma that black and brown people face day-in and day-out.”
NYPD Transit Chief Edward Delatorre said that police had believed the man filmed at the Franklin Avenue station had brandished a firearm. When cops had previously tried to stop him, he ran, according to Delatorre.
“What the video doesn’t show is a credible witness alerting our officers to a man brandishing a gun,” Delatorre tweeted. “When officers approached the man in question, he fled into a subway station and onto a train to escape. Only at the next station did the man show compliance, not when he first ran.”
Ultimately, the man at Franklin Avenue was arrested for fare evasion, according to a report in The Washington Post.
It was not immediately clear what drew the police response in the second video. The department did not respond to a request for comment and further information on the incidents.
The MTA announced in September that it had planned to hire 500 new cops, drawing skepticism from advocates for transit and social justice. Those hirings came under the direction of Cuomo, who called for added police in light of a string of publicized MTA worker assaults; increasing fare evasion and the city’s affordability crisis that has sent more homeless New Yorkers underground to seek shelter.
But the videos compounded that skepticism. The MTA is in a transit crisis and widening budget gaps could force the authority to enact grave cuts to subway and bus service to save money, transit officials have warned.
Transit advocates have questioned whether the MTA should spend its few resources on added police and have implored the authority to strive harder to cut excessive spending internally. The officers would cost the MTA $260 million through 2023, according to an analysis from the Citizens Budget Committee.
“What we see here today … is a governor who is in charge of a failed metro system,” said Brooklyn City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, “and wants to absolve himself of responsibility by blaming it on the poor.”
Peter Ajemian, a spokesman for Cuomo, in a statement called for a review of the incidents but did not address criticism of the governor’s plans for more police.
“The incidents captured by video over the weekend are very disturbing and should be thoroughly investigated,” Ajemian said.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.