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2021 saw another surge of anti-Asian hate crimes in subway

A Flushing-bound 7 train in Queens. | Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

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The number of anti-Asian incidents reported in the subway jumped last year, NYPD data shows, accounting for more than one third of all bias crimes in the system.

Through the end of November — the latest figures provided by the Hate Crime Task Force — 30 of the 84 reported subway bias incidents targeted Asians, a 233% increase from 2020, when only nine were tallied.

The ugly encounters in the subway mirror a significant surge in hate crimes across the city since 2019, with the NYPD reporting in December that anti-Asian incidents rose by 361% from the previous year.

In the subway, police say victims have been beaten, pushed in front of oncoming trains, spit on and hit with racial slurs — and advocates say the numbers only begin to reflect the whole of the hatred aimed at Asian riders, estimating that only 10% to 30% of violent incidents are reported to law enforcement.

“There is tremendous underreporting,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian-American Federation. “The challenge is that very few people come forward.”

Meanwhile, a man who allegedly fatally attacked an Asian woman in a Canal Street station last July was not hit with a hate crime when he was charged with manslaughter in November.

Traumatized Underground

Fear has kept Potri Ranka Manis out of the subway since Aug. 10, when the Filipina nurse said she was struck in the head and told to “Go back to China, your dirty country!” while trying to distribute masks to a couple on a Queens-bound E train.

A police account of the incident says Manis was robbed of her cell phone and punched “multiple times in the head” after she took the phone out to record the two unmasked individuals, who fled.

Her husband now drives her to work in Manhattan from their home in Queens.

“I’m so afraid, it brings up traumas,” Manis, 67, told THE CITY. “Going alone into the subway gives me a quiver, which is so bad, because this is disabling me from doing my work.”

Manis, a nurse with the Health Department, said she had teamed with Queens organizations to give out masks in the subway since early in the pandemic.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/ THE CITY
Potri Ranka Manis, 67, in her work scrubs at the 74th St.-Roosevelt Ave. station in Queens.

“People have been so happy when I give them masks and they immediately wear them,” she said. “But when I offered the masks from my shopping bag to the couple sitting next to me, the man grabbed my mask and said, ‘Mind your own business, ch—.”

Figures provided to the MTA board by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force show the number of reported anti-Asian incidents spiked from April 4 to May 9, with at least 15 occuring during that period.

“Intolerable,” MTA board member Robert Linn told THE CITY. “A disgusting legacy of the Trump era that must be strenuously responded to by all our leaders.”

In 2020, the MTA launched a “Hate Has No Place” campaign with signs and announcements designed to discourage bias incidents.

Last year, subway hate crimes based on sexual orientation and against whites increased by a higher percentage than anti-Asian incidents, NYPD figures show, though they were far fewer in number.

“Hate of any kind has no place in the transit system and ensuring our customers are safe is a top priority,” Demetrius Crichlow, senior vice president of subways for New York City Transit, said in a statement to THE CITY. “In an effort to deter attacks, security cameras are operating in all 472 subway stations, and earlier this year, the MTA updated its anti-hate public messaging campaign with ads created specifically to fight anti-Asian motivated crimes.”

THE CITY reported last spring that older Asian New Yorkers particularly became more vulnerable to harassment during the pandemic.

The bias incidents in the subway included an April encounter at a Queens station in which an Asian undercover police officer was attacked on a platform at the 39th Avenue-Dutch Kills stop by a man who allegedly yelled about “you people” before shoving the officer.

On Dec. 1, police said, a 58-year-old woman was slapped at the 174th St. station in The Bronx by a man who made an anti-Chinese statement. And on Nov. 27, police said, a 54-year-old woman was beaten with bike handlebars by a man who yelled an anti-Asian slur at her inside the 116th Street stop on the No. 1 line.

A 46-year-old Manhattan man, is facing charges of weapons possession and assault as a hate crime for the Nov. 27 handlebar beating, police said.

‘A Little Box With No Escape’

Yoo, of the Asian-American Federation, said subway riders should “keep an eye on each other” while on trains.

“The fact that you’re underground in a little box with no escape is not lost on me,” she said.

NYPD figures show 1,746 criminal complaints in the transit system as of Dec. 26 —  a 0.4% increase from 2020, when daily ridership collapsed at the beginning  of the pandemic.

NYPD crime statistics reported to the MTA board show that the number of felony assaults in the subway system last year hit its highest level in more than two decades, topping 400 for the first time since 1997.

The NYPD increased police presence in the subway in May 2021 after repeated calls from the MTA for more officers in stations. Janno Lieber, the acting MTA chairperson and CEO, last month said the transit agency is now pushing for officers to be stationed in parts of the transit system where riders feel most vulnerable.

Manis said the presence of more riders and police is not enough for her to return to the subway.

“It’s a scary time,” Yoo said. “I know a lot of Asian essential workers remain fearful of going to work because they remain afraid of riding the subway.”

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