Anxieties resurface as gunshots erupt in NYC subway


Police officers patrol a New York City subway station, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Several people were shot and injured Tuesday at a New York City subway station in a morning rush hour attack that left bleeding injured commuters on a train platform. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)


Earlier this year, New Yorkers shuddered at a subway crime straight out of urban nightmares – the death of a woman pushed onto the tracks by a deranged stranger. The city’s new mayor has pledged to “make New Yorkers feel safe in our subway system.”

But commuters on Tuesday morning faced an attack that sparked the deepest fears of many riders. A railcar filled with rush hour smoke as it stopped at a Brooklyn train station. Shots – at least 33 of them – rang out, injuring at least 10 people.

Frightened riders fled, as did the shooter, who remained at large on Wednesday.

Much is still unknown about the attack, including whether it was an act of terrorism. Authorities said they are looking for Frank R. James, 62, the suspect who they believe rented a van linked to the shooting.

It was a searing reminder of the city’s steadfast battle against gun violence and the specter of terror-like attacks that hangs over New York City — and especially the subway system that is its transportation backbone.

Police and security officials have made numerous attempts to harden the city against such attacks, placing officers on trains and platforms, installing cameras and even performing rare weapons spot checks on passengers. entering certain stations.

Yet the sprawling system, with nearly 500 stations, remains largely like the city streets themselves: too big to guard and too busy to be completely secure.

Public officials say the subway system is crucial to the city’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, which saw many New Yorkers avoid public transit during its peak. The metro’s typical daily ridership has fallen from 5.5 million riders to less than a tenth.

But as more and more people return to the office, the traffic increases. On Monday, ridership was estimated at 3.1 million, according to the MTA, which operates the system.

With the shooter still at large, commuters like Julia Brown had no choice but to keep riding the tracks.

“It’s the only way to get home, other than the express bus, then another bus, then another bus,” Brown, who works in Manhattan, said just hours after the attack. “I lived through 9/11. I lived through the blackout. You just have to be as safe as possible and be aware of your surroundings.”

Governor Kathy Hochul posted a photo on social media showing her on a train after the shooting, and Mayor Eric Adams pledged to increase patrols at subway stations.

“We know this hurts the mindset of many New Yorkers who are scared of what happened, but we’re a resilient city. We’ve been here before,” Adams told MSNBC on Wednesday.

Even before the attack, the mayor pledged to increase subway patrols and to launch sweeps of subway stations and trains to weed out homeless people who used them as shelters.

In a rambling video posted to YouTube, James replayed recent speeches by Adams and Hochul and mocked their efforts to address violence as weak and futile.

“Their plan is doomed,” James said in the video.

In the 1980s, the New York City subway was a symbol of urban disorder: covered in graffiti, plagued by crime and shunned by tourists.

Like the rest of the city, however, the subways have since cleaned up. Before the arrival of COVID-19, the main problem for trains was not crime, but overcrowding and breakdowns linked to aging infrastructure.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, New Yorkers learned to live with the worry that the subways or other parts of the city might be a terrorist target.

In 2017, an Islamic State sympathizer detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his chest in a subway station near Port Authority bus station, injuring several bystanders.

That same year, the city began expanding the use of sidewalk barriers blocking vehicles after two attacks. In one, a man who prosecutors say also supported ISIS drove a rental truck down a bike path along the Hudson River, killing eight people and maiming others. In another, a mentally ill man drove a speeding car into pedestrians in Times Square, killing one and injuring at least 20.

In 2016, a man who prosecutors say sympathized with Osama bin Laden detonated pipe bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey, injuring bystanders, before being captured in a shootout with police. And in 2010, a man tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, to blow it up.

Christopher Herrmann, a former city police officer who is now a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said episodes like Tuesday’s are sure to cause a new wave of anxiety, especially among drug users. Metro.

“With 9/11, you have a specific target: the World Trade Center,” Herrmann said. “A lot of people can relate to that.”

But the apparent randomness of Tuesday’s attack “really invokes a lot of fear and concern,” he said, “because most people don’t see themselves as a target.”

Some subway users expressed concern while others ignored it as a daily risk.

Alexi Vizhnay considered boarding an East River ferry after work on Tuesday, but decided to try his luck on the subway. It was simply the most efficient way to get back to Queens.

“There are a lot of things that happen beyond your control,” he said. “As tragic as that is, all I can do is remind myself to be alert and careful.”

By Wednesday morning, the station where the downed train had reopened and commuters were on their way again.

“We must be more vigilant vis-à-vis the environment. But fear? No, “said Ana Marrero, who took the subway to get to work for 30 years. “You think about the tragedy and those who were injured, but you have no other choice and do what you have to do.”


Associated Press reporters Jennifer Peltz, Jim Mustian, Michael R. Sisak, Seth Wenig and Joseph B. Frederick contributed to this report.

Lynn A. Saleh