By Bill Parry
The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating a possible bias incident that left an Astoria woman bruised, sore and frightened. The 45-year-old mother of four was called a “terrorist,” shoved down a staircase and injured during an apparent anti-Muslim attack at Grand Central Station early Monday morning, according to the NYPD.
Soha Salama, an MTA station agent originally from Egypt, was riding a Manhattan-bound No. 7 subway train when she was first accosted by a 5-foot-10 Hispanic man around 6:20 a.m.
“A person approached her, called her a terrorist and said she should not be working in the city,” an NYPD spokesman said. A sketch of the suspect was released by the NYPD Tuesday. He is described as 25 to 35 years old, 5-foot-9 to 6-foot, 150 to 180 lbs., and was last seen wearing a dark colored jacket, and a black knitted winter hat.
Salama was on her way to work wearing an MTA uniform and a traditional Muslim headdress, known as a hijab. As she left the subway in Grand Central, the suspect followed her and pushed her down the flight of stairs, injuring her ankle and her knee but not breaking any bones, police said.
“I wasn’t able to say anything. I was running for my life,” Salama told reporters. “I was afraid he was going to throw me down on the tracks or do more bad to me than he already did. I think this hate was raised after the election. During the Obama administration this hate wasn’t there. It’s because of the hate speeches we hear on the media. In the 20 years I live here, I didn’t experience something like that. As soon as the election and Mr. Trump spreads this hate speech around it’s different now. He leads the people in the wrong direction.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed, placing the blame for the surge in hate crimes on the president-elect. Chief Robert Boyce cited statistics that showed a 115 percent increase in hate crimes in New York City since Election Day to 43 cases compared to 20 in November 2015.
“Do I blame Donald Trump for using hate speech during his campaign? Absolutely — he did. It is a fact,” de Blasio said. “He said horrible things about Muslims, horrible things about Mexican Americans. I don’t need to recount what happened for a year and a half in this country. We can’t airbrush that out of our history. It was not acceptable. We now need to work with him and he has a chance to make it better by amending his comments and being a force of reconciliation. I think he has to do more of that.”
Following Monday’s attack on Salama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked the MTA to work with the NYPD to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
“This is the great state of New York, we welcome people of all cultures, customs, and creeds with open arms. We do not allow intolerance or fear to divide us because we know diversity is our strength and we are at our best when we stand united,” Cuomo said. “The work of the Hate Crimes Task Force has never been more urgent and we will continue to crack down on this type of criminal behavior. I wish a speedy recovery for the victim, and I want to let her know we are seeking justice for her and for all New Yorkers.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for additional federal anti-terror funding to help safeguard civil, religious and community institutions. She is urging a $5 million increase for a total funding level of at least $25 million in the 2017 Homeland Security appropriations bill that would help ensure the protection of non-profit facilities and places of worship from potential threats.
“No New Yorker should ever live or worship in fear. With hate crimes on the rise in New York and across the country we can’t stand idly by and let these incidents go unanswered,” Gillibrand said. “We must make sure our places of worship, our community centers and non-profits have every resource necessary to be protected and safe from threats. I’m fighting for this additional Homeland Security funding because we must stand strong against threats, hatred and attacks against our community institutions.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr