The eighth subway murder this year shows NYC’s public safety in deep decline


On Friday, 15-year-old Jayjon Burnett, shot at point-blank range in the chest on the A train in Queens as he rode home from school, became the city’s third subway-murder victim in just two weeks and the eighth such victim this year. This preventable — and growing — death toll is not only horrific for the victims; it is horrific for the city’s health. 

The three recent killings are an acceleration of the post-COVID trend. Since March 2020, 22 New Yorkers have been violently murdered on the subway (and a recent fatal knifing on a Bronx bus makes 23 on transit overall).

Through 2019, by contrast, it took nearly 13 years to accumulate 22 subway murders.  

When a union pipefittera Citi Field maintenance worker and a high-school student can all be killed in just 14 days, on three different train lines in three different boroughs — Brooklyn, The Bronx and Queens respectively — something has gone horribly wrong. 

The progressive line is to deny the extent of the subway-murder crisis. City Councilwoman Tiffany Caban’s mid-September comment that “subway violence is a once-in-a-million event” hasn’t aged well; we’ve gone from once in a million to three in two weeks.

subway attack
A recent fatal knifing on a Bronx bus makes 23 transit killings since March 2020.
Seth Gottfried

What’s more shocking, though, is that conventional wisdom, too, prefers to deny or minimize the problem. Mocked NY1’s Errol Louis last week, after two of the most recent three subway killings, as he enjoyed his own, fortunately non-eventful commute: “Going home on the violent NYC subways. Riders paralyzed with fright.”

OK, then — why should you care about subway murders? Well, because they’re the barometer of broader urban public safety. 

Whether people feel safe on the subway is the ultimate test of a dense city. Taking the subway is different from walking down the street, where you can quicken your pace or cross to the other side to avoid an uncomfortable situation. 

On the subway, by contrast, the city asks people to voluntarily get into a locked metal box with dozens of strangers.   

Riders must have some comfort that everyone is playing by the same rules, starting with paying the fare — and that the city and state government have done their best to make sure anti-social actors can’t repeatedly prey on everyone else.

Yet it’s not just that New Yorkers feel unsafe. They’ve lost confidence that the city and state are trying to keep them safe.  

New York City and state have thrown away the rulebook, elevating the privileges of violent suspects over everyone else, a strategy that just doesn’t work in a group setting. The alleged killer of Brooklyn subway commuter Tommy Bailey last month, remember, was out on non-cash bail release for a similar subway attempted murder the year before. 

Alvin Charles
Alvin Charles was arrested for stabbing Tommy Bailey to death on the L train.
Gregory P. Mango

It’s not just the murders. Last week in Queens, a robber forcibly imprisoned a woman in a metal turnstile until she gave up her wallet.

This erosion of trust in strangers, a critical ingredient in a busy city, is a big reason post-COVID subway ridership is stuck at less than two-thirds of normal. If you don’t have to ride the trains, you don’t. Meanwhile, bridge-and-tunnel car and truck traffic has fully recovered. 

This mass exodus from the subways has an impact above-ground. Do you worry about being hit by a car? Getting more people out of their cars and onto the subways, all by itself, cuts traffic deaths. 

For nearly three decades until 2019, traffic deaths declined as public safety underground improved. In 1990, the worst year for both, 26 people were murdered on the subway and 701 died in traffic crashes. In 2019, three people were killed on the subway and 220 died in traffic crashes.

Since 2020, though, both subway murders and traffic deaths have soared. New York has suffered 187 traffic deaths through September of this year, 14% above 2019 levels.  

The subway-murder crisis is the sharp edge of both these problems. Fix one, and you help fix the other. Worried about pollution and congestion? Same thing.  

The progressives love to hold up Paris and London as examples of successful global cities. But they never mention that no one has been murdered on the Paris Metro in years, and, since COVID, one person has been killed on the London transit system (on the bus).  

New York won’t get people back into that locked metal box with strangers, and out of their far more dangerous cars, until subway crime declines. New York’s public safety, overall, thus lives or dies by its subways — in recent weeks, all too literally.  

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.  





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