NEW YORK CITY: Combative Transit Protests Take Place Across City, Over 40 Arrested

Photo: Protesters paralyze Grand Central Station in New York City

By Sandra Harris

The third in a series of protests against policing of the New York transit system occurred in New York City on Friday, January 31, with thousands of people taking various actions throughout the day and into the night. The “FTP3” protest had been promoted by organizations such as Decolonize This Place, Take Back the Bronx, among others to build on previous protests that began in Fall 2019.

The protests were sparked last year in response to New York state and city governments’ deployment of additional police officers on subways and buses to stop fare evasion. With increased police presence, tensions between the masses and police continued to escalate over the past several months in several well-documented incidents of police brutality against Black youth and repression against immigrant street vendors.

In December, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) board passed a $17 billion operating budget in which New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the addition of 500 officers, expanding the MTA police force by 64% at a cost of $249 million over four years.

Actions on Friday initiated with a banner drop at the Oculus in lower Manhattan that read, “Fuck Your $2.75, Fare Strike Today,” referring to the standard fare for a trip on the New York metro. In the subways, emergency exit doors were chained open to allow people to freely enter the subway, while OMNY (One Metro New York), the new contactless fare payment system was targeted with paint and the card readers at turnstiles were filled with glue.

Screenshot from a New York transit social media account, card readers at the subway entrance have been filled with glue to disrupt fare collection

Thousands gathered in Grand Central Station around 5 PM, where protesters encountered a rapid response from police. Facing heavy police repression, large groups of protesters dispersed from Grand Central Station, with some taking to the streets and others the subways, however police were able to block the paths of some contingents. Throughout the city, various groups of protesters faced off with the police in subway stations and nearby areas. By the end of the night there was a reported total of 45 arrests.

Police brutally arrest a protester, causing him to bleed from his face

In the weeks leading up to this most recent action, an increase of graffiti in subways, banner drops, and other messages against police and in favor of free transit appeared with messages such as “fuck $2.75,” “fuck the police,” and “Free MTA Now.” Demands from protest organizers over the past several months have emphasized opposition to the police and the need for free transit.

One example of anti-police graffiti throughout New York subways, reads, “Cops Out”

The protest’s lead-up also drew increased attention from reactionary forces such as the Sergeant’s Benevolent Association (the New York Police Union), Donald Trump Jr., and fascist media figure and collaborator Andy Ngo. The NYPD Chief of Department released a video statement prior to the action claiming that protesters would be “attempting to physically assault our officers.”

The masses are intent on persisting with this campaign, and the combative actions related to it have incited fear in the hearts of the police and their assorted reactionary allies. The people of New York City have demonstrated their immense creativity in resisting the state’s attempts to crack down on the protest movement and fare evasion.

Under imperialism, the control of transit systems is another way of controlling the working class and masses generally, as well as put the burden of their operations costs on the backs of the working class. As seen around the world in similar uprisings sparked by urban transit systems, it is a flashpoint where the masses can begin to disrupt bourgeois order and expand the struggle into broader revolutionary actions and goals.

In the face of increased repression, higher levels of militancy and organization led by proletarian ideology are a must for the movement to sustain itself. The main danger to this movement however, will not come from the police themselves, but from sellout politicians, revisionists, and nonprofits willing to strike a deal in the hopes of quelling the people’s anger and rerouting their rebellious activity into more useless electoralism and reforms.