While details of the rush hour incident are still hazy, one thing is clear: Lack of police officers isn’t the issue.
On Tuesday morning, at least 16 people were injured in a shooting inside a New York City subway station. While many details about the shooting are still unconfirmed, a troubling narrative has emerged: As New Yorkers grapple with the shooting, many fear that media outlets and public officials alike will use it to promote calls for increased policing.
The shooting reportedly took place on a southbound N train as it passed 36th Street in the Sunset Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. Per Gothamist, transit riders reported that they heard several gunshots before 8:30 a.m., right during the rush hour commute. Although a New York Fire Department spokesperson initially said the shooter left behind “several undetonated devices,” the NYPD later tweeted that “there are NO active explosive devices at this time.”
However, NBC New York reported that it’s possible that the shooter used smoke grenades. These devices potentially could have been used to distract the crowd on the train, although there is no confirmation of this yet. However, there are reports of smoke on the N train before it arrived at the 36th Street Station.
Gothamist reported that Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC, was on the N train when she heard the shots from one car over. “People were pounding and looking behind them, running, trying to get on to the train,” Fonda said. “The door locked between cars and the people behind us, there were a lot of loud pops and there was smoke in the other car.”
Another source told ABC News that multiple smoke devices were likely used. In addition, the outlet reported that the 25th Street Station in Greenwood Heights was also impacted by the shooting.
As of now, the NYPD reports that 10 people were shot, with five in critical condition. Six others were otherwise injured. The shooter has yet to be located, though the police have released a suspect description.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who is currently in quarantine due to contracting COVID, released a statement on Twitter shortly after noon local time. He confirmed that there had been “a multiple number of injuries,” including gunshot wounds, and that the suspect had detonated smoke bombs. “We will not allow New Yorkers to be terrorized, even by a single individual,” he said (although NYPD insisted the attack was not an act of terrorism).
Although Adams — a former transit police officer himself — didn’t outline any major policy changes in his initial remarks, he did say an hour later during an interview with CNN that he’d double the police presence in the subway system. The shooting comes just months after Adams had already announced plans to increase policing in the tunnels. “Omnipresence is the key,” Adams said in January, per The New York Times. “People feel the system is not safe because they don’t see officers. We’re going to bring a visual presence to our systems.”
Under Adams, the NYPD has already sent an additional 1,000 officers into subways as part of his efforts to increase police presence. With the about 2,500 police already assigned to the Police Department’s Transit Bureau, local outlet amNY reported that brings their presence to a record 3,500 police within the public transit system.
Central to Adams’s campaign was the notion of improving public safety. It’s important to note this because outlets like the Times are latching onto old narratives in response to the shooting. According to a bot that tracks changes in text on the Times’s main page, the outlet’s original headline for an article about the shooting was changed from “Several People Shot in Brooklyn Subway Station” to “Shooting in Subway Station Heightens Simmering Fears About Public Safety” before being changed back.
This emerging narrative — and the media’s role in it — is expected. Outlets like the Times have long been criticized for acting as propaganda arm of the New York Police Department, specifically. Of course, this sort of copaganda isn’t limited to the Times alone; the New York Post has a long history of doing the same, too.
With the “public safety” narrative already at play, it’s likely that officials will refer back to it in their responses to the shooting. But as they do it’s important to ask: safety for whom?
The shooting highlights the unfortunate cycle that NYC — and American cities broadly — are caught in. When tragedy strikes, policing is seen as the solution. But there are record numbers of cops in the NYC transit system already. Yet they mostly focus on harassing people for petty things, like jumping the turnstiles, or having the audacity to be homeless, or, God forbid, not being white in public.
Recently, the NYPD announced that total arrests on the city’s transit system increased 64% over the last year. When it comes to fare evasions, police had made a 51% arrest increase. Earlier this month, Curbed reported on the violence surrounding the increase of fare evasion arrests.
Time and time again, we’ve seen that increasing policing doesn’t do jack shit, especially in regards to mass shootings. If police solved mass shootings then surely the United States, whose cities collectively funnel $100 billion into policing each year, wouldn’t have seen over 100 mass shootings in 2022 so far.
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