The former New York Police Department captain now running the city, who won the job on a law-and-order message, acknowledged on Tuesday that many New Yorkers do not feel safe in the subways.
Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat who two weeks ago took over the city’s top job, made the remarks two days after assuring residents that the subway system is safe and that “fighting the perception of fear” is one of its biggest hurdles.
Crime in the sprawling transit system has emerged as a major test for the new administration after 40-year-old Michelle Alyssa Go died Saturday when she was pushed onto the tracks of an oncoming train at the busy Times Square-42nd Street subway station.
“What our battle is in the subway system is fighting the perception of fear that cases like this can happen,” Adams told CNN affiliate NY1 on Sunday.
On Tuesday, however, Adams changed his tune, saying he personally shares New Yorkers’ anxieties “when I’m moving throughout our transportation system” and telling reporters his administration will work to drive down crime in the subways at a time when other major US cities are experiencing a spike in crime during the pandemic.
“We know we have a job to do, we’re going to do both – we’re going to drive down crime and we going to make sure New Yorkers feel safe in our subway system, and they don’t feel that way now,” said Adams, who is the second Black mayor in the city’s history after the late David Dinkins.
Adams emerged from a crowded Democratic mayoral primary field last year with a promise to address rising crime as part of a broader plan to revive the pandemic-ravaged city. Throughout his campaign, which culminated with a sweeping victory in the November general election, Adams described public safety as a “prerequisite to prosperity.”
“We’re not going to recover as a city if we turn back time and see an increase in violence,” Adams said last spring in remarks after a shooting in Times Square.
On the trail, Adams described himself as uniquely qualified to confront violent crime, while also using his past work as a reformer within the NYPD to help shape a more just department. That pledge faces an immediate test now following a high profile killing in a heavily-trafficked area that is also one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions.
Attack at subway station was random
On New Year’s Day, in his first speech since taking office, Adams zeroed in on crime in New York, vowing to “put more resources into stopping violent crime” while working with Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell to reform the nation’s largest department.
Though not near the rate of the early 1990s, crime in New York has been on the rise in recent months. In November – the most recent month for which the city has released data – the crime rate increased by 21.3% from the same period last year, according to the NYPD.
There have been 28 robberies, 24 felony assaults and 42 grand larcenies in the transit system through January 16 compared to 13 robberies, 20 assaults and 25 grand larcenies during the first 16 days of last year, according to the NYPD.
Simon Martial, 61, was arrested by police after allegedly pushing Go in front of an oncoming train in what investigators described as a random attack.
Martial was charged with second-degree murder, the NYPD said. He turned himself in to police less than an hour after the incident and was taken into custody. CNN has not been yet been able to identify an attorney for Martial.
The deadly attack, at 9:40 a.m., was “unprovoked and the victim does not appear to have any interaction with the subject,” Sewell said Saturday. An investigation is ongoing, she added.
Minutes before the woman was pushed onto the oncoming train, NYPD Assistant Chief Jason Wilcox said, the suspect approached a different woman on the train platform. That woman felt like she was going to be pushed by the suspect and told police that as she was walking away, she witnessed him push the victim onto the tracks, according to Wilcox.
Go was employed by Deloitte Services LP, a multimillion-dollar financial services firm.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague in this senseless act of violence,” said Managing Director Jonathan Gandal. “We are doing all we can to support her family and friends during this terribly painful time.”
Go was a volunteer with the New York Junior League (NYJL). Its president, Dayna Barlow Cassidy, said Go was working with several NYJL community partners that serve at-risk communities.
‘Safety matters in our transportation system’
Among Adams’ first official duties as mayor was briefing the press on the shooting of an off-duty NYPD officer.
The officer suffered a gunshot to the head while sleeping in his car on New Year’s Day, according to police, noting it is unclear whether the officer was the intended target.
Adams emphasized he would not let New York become “a city of disorder.”
Also on New Year’s Day, a good Samaritan was killed while trying to help a man who fell onto subway tracks during a gang assault in the Bronx.
The assault victim was a 38-year-old male, who was approached about 2:40 a.m. by several people on the southbound B/D train platform in the Fordham Road station, the NYPD said in a statement.
The gang “displayed a knife and began assaulting him” and at some point the assault victim landed on the subway tracks, according to police. It is unclear if he fell or was pushed.
A 36-year-old witness went down to the tracks to help the victim, but was “subsequently struck by the oncoming train, causing his death,” police said.
The train didn’t strike the assault victim, according to police, but he was treated and released by a local hospital for a fractured arm.
Police said the suspected gang left the station. NYPD released surveillance photos from the scene in an effort to identify anyone who may have witnessed the incident, or any of the alleged assailants.
The subway station, located on 188th Street, falls under the 46th Precinct, which had seen 34 felonious assaults in the previous 28 days, according to city data.
Adams and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul earlier this month announced an initiative to address both public safety in the subway system by sending more officers to inspect subways and stations as well as addressing the homeless crisis by deploying trained mental health personnel across the city to support individuals who are homeless.
The mayor on Tuesday said “safety matters in our transportation system,” and described Go’s death as “extremely impactful for New Yorkers.”
Rises in violent crime like New York has seen over the past year are difficult to explain. Academics and public safety experts have differing theories on why crime plunged in the 1990s and, for now at least, are similarly at odds over the causes of its resurgence.