He’s not going the MTA’s way. On Friday, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief Janno Lieber asked a Bronx court to banish an alleged subway attacker, Alexander Wright, from the transit system for three years. Bans like this can make police work easier — but without a functional justice system to begin with, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.
Wright is exactly who subway workers and riders are afraid of these days.
On Aug. 11, at The Bronx’s Pelham Bay Park station, he was harassing women. When transit worker Anthony Nelson came to help them, Wright brutally knocked him to the ground, breaking his shoulder and nose.
If you guessed that Wright didn’t just “snap,” you’re right. Last year, he cold-cocked an Asian woman on a Chinatown street, sending her to the hospital. That was his 40th arrest.
Wright is a beneficiary of the “decarceration” movement. Decarceration, though, is supposed to go along with effective mental-health treatment.
As The Post editorialized about Wright last June, “he’s only the latest in a long line of dangerously troubled people the city can’t or won’t treat.” Yet he left Rikers in December, with the disposition of the 2021 assault case unclear (it’s sealed).
Apparently, Wright has not healed himself over the ensuing months. Instead, he goes from neighborhood to neighborhood menacing and attacking people, using the transit system as his method of “commuting.” Two years ago, he attacked someone at a Bronx bus stop, among other transit crimes.
Repeat offenders scare subway passengers away.
High post-2020 violent crime, including 19 murders since March 2020, is part of the reason ridership has plateaued at 60% of the pre-COVID normal. London, by contrast, has achieved 75% to 80% of normal (when the system there isn’t closed by a labor strike over pay, but that is another story, coming to New York soon).
Yet it is subway workers, stuck in the system all day, who suffer the most anxiety.
Barely a week goes by without an assault on a subway or bus worker. Some weeks, three or four workers suffer assault. Harassment, too (which includes spitting, which is really an assault), is common, with dozens of incidents each week.
Subway workers know what is going on. As a subway conductor who identified himself as “Drummond in Queens” told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer last week, “bail reform, that’s the issue,” in addition to the lack of mental-health beds. “There’s a correlation of the lack of mental-health facilities and bail reform with these criminals attacking our brothers and sisters on a daily basis and getting out of jail,” he said.
Indeed, though Wright sits at Rikers now — too late for his latest victim — the only thing standing between him and other subway workers and riders is $5,001 bail.
That’s better than nothing at all. But Wright is dangerous — and under state law, judges can’t consider that factor in setting bail.
Lieber, the MTA chief, won’t directly address bail reform and other criminal-justice shortcomings. As Drummond astutely observed, his boss is Gov. Kathy Hochul, who claims that nothing is wrong.
And Lieber correctly notes that he’s not a criminal-justice expert; it is enough trouble to run the trains. He just knows he needs to keep his workers safe.
If, upon conviction, a judge does ban Wright, it will be the first time under a two-year-old law that explicitly calls for such bans of people who have attacked transit workers or committed subway sex crimes.
It’s certainly wise to keep Wright off the transit system (with exemptions for going to work or to a doctor, as the law allows). A ban allows cops to eject him from a subway station or train upon sight or arrest him, rather than have to follow him around to catch him in a new crime.
It also keeps him from “commuting” around the city to search for future victims.
But this measure, of course, would require police enforcement and prosecution itself.
In fact, as the Transport Workers Union notes, even without the explicit 2020 law, prosecutors and judges once imposed such bans on persistent transit criminals as conditions of parole.
The bigger issue here is that unless the city and state can rehabilitate Wright before once again letting him free, he’s a danger to others on the trains and on the streets.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.