By Christopher Robbins
June 10, 2019
As the NYPD and the MTA continue to crack down on New Yorkers who jump a subway turnstile or ride the bus without paying, summonses for farebeating have increased, while arrests have gone down. But two videos shot on Friday show that the NYPD is still forcibly detaining people for the crime of fare evasion.
On Friday morning at around 10 a.m., Kendra Bozarth took a video from her midtown office window of a man being arrested on 51st Street while his companion apparently looked on.
Police say that 24-year-old Jasen Jacques and 22-year-old Erika Coronel jumped the turnstile at the Lexington Avenue and East 51 Street subway stop. "Police attempted to stop the individual and he actively resisted arrest," Detective Denise Moroney, an NYPD spokesperson, wrote in an email.
Jacques was charged with theft of service and resisting arrest, while Coronel was charged with resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. A spokesperson for Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, Jr., said that Jacques's case is sealed, so they cannot comment, while Coronel was issued a Desk Appearance Ticket.
On Friday evening at around 7 p.m., Meera Nair said she was exiting the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue stop when she saw a group of people holding a man down. Video shows the handcuffed man screaming "I can't breathe!" as he is being restrained.
In a statement, the NYPD said that "police observed an individual jump over the turnstile avoiding payment. Police attempted to stop the individual who refused to show identification and actively resisted arrest."
"To me, that they would arrest somebody, and sit on him and put his life in jeopardy, maybe put his immigration status in jeopardy...that it escalated to this level, for $2.75? It's a waste of resources," said Nair, a writer and activist (and full disclosure, is married to a WNYC reporter). "And I thought the city said it was not going to arrest people for minor offenses?"
Over the first three months of 2019, summonses for farebeating have doubled compared to the same time period in 2018—from 10,511 to 21,112; arrests have decreased from 2,599 to 1,144.
In the fall of 2017, Vance announced that he would no longer prosecute turnstile jumping arrests except for "individuals who pose a demonstrated threat to public safety."
Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Police Commissioner, James O'Neill, have objected to Vance's policy change.
"If there is not arrest somewhere in the equation, if there's consistent fare-beating, then we don't have clear enough consequences and people will do it more and more," de Blasio told WNYC's Brian Lehrer in February of last year, adding that there was "no evidence" that turnstile jumping is a crime of poverty. (Research conducted by the Community Service Society, which advocated for the city's Fair Fares program, disputes this.)
The NYPD has wide latitude on who they arrest for farebeating and who they ticket.
"They have that discretion but it's obvious who they pick on," said Anthony Posada, the supervising attorney for the community justice unit of the Legal Aid Society. "For us it has always been this aggressive, over-criminalizing of black and brown bodies."
Posada added that "it's in these train stations, in predominantly communities of color, where most of these interactions occur."
The vast majority of New Yorkers who are stopped for farebeating are black or Latino—in 2019 they represented 87 percent of arrests and 70 percent of summonses issued, according to numbers obtained by the Daily News. A more complete racial breakdown of stops and arrests is hard to come by, because the NYPD is refusing to comply with a law that requires them to disclose these figures.
Jeffrey Jones, a spokesperson for the Community Service Society, called the footage "disturbing," and that "the violence seems way out of proportion to the offense."
"We’re happy to see that overall fare evasion arrest numbers have gone down since our original report on the subject, but they are still a serious problem for people of color in low-income neighborhoods," Jones said.
New York City Transit Authority President Andy Byford has blamed the Manhattan DA's policy for an increase in farebeating, but insisted that any crackdown would not be racially biased.
"We will be explicit in our instruction and our direction to the NYPD to be very, very careful not to target certain communities," Byford said in December. "I cannot stress that enough. You have my commitment in a public forum on that."
An MTA spokesperson said they are looking into the arrests. The Mayor's Office has not responded to a request for comment.
Posada, the Legal Aid attorney, pointed out that the NYPD are supposed to identify themselves, per the Right to Know Act, and that reflexive reactions to being approached by a group of plainclothes officers can be construed as illegal.
"If I just slightly or suddenly move my arm...that can be read by an officer as if you are resisting," Posada said. "You're not acting disorderly, you're not trying for this not to happen, you just don't know what's happening."
Posada added, "God forbid—this person happened to be saying the same things Eric Garner was saying. What if he had a complication on the ground? Was it all worth it, because it was $2.75?"