Reports of hate crimes targeting the Jewish community are surging in the subway, according to police statistics, a troubling trend that mirrors what’s bubbling outside of the transit system.
As of October 20, the NYPD has logged 42 hate-crime complaints involving anti-Semitic acts in the subway this year, NYPD numbers show — a 162% increase over the number of incidents reported through that date in 2018.
They include a June 13 encounter at the Gates Avenue station in Brooklyn, where a 26-year-old man allegedly yelled “Heil, Hitler!” and “All Jews must die!” at a 33-year-old man before grabbing the victim’s phone out of his shirt pocket and flinging it at an oncoming J train, according to the Brooklyn district attorney’s office. The alleged assailant faces multiple criminal charges, including a pair being prosecuted as hate crimes.
A day earlier, at the West 4th Street station in Manhattan, a 21-year-old man was arrested for allegedly knocking the hat off a victim and saying, “Stupid Jew, what’s your problem?” That man is charged with harassment and aggravated harassment.
Hatred is visible, too, in the growing number of swastikas appearing on subway trains and in stations.
According to MTA data obtained by THE CITY, there have been 13 instances through October 23 where the discovery of the hate symbols caused trains to be taken out of service or subway cars to be isolated before being scrubbed.
Haters Love an Audience
That’s one more instance than in all of 2018 but more than double the number of swastika-related subway incident reports from 2013, even as overall subway crime this year has dipped a little more than 1%.
“People are emboldened and they want the largest possible audience for what they want to communicate,” said Alexander Rosemberg, director of community affairs for the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey. “And the subway is where they find that audience.”
Anti-Semitic grafitti and assaults on Jewish people accounted for close to 60% of the hate crimes in the subway in 2019, with the highest number of them occurring in Brooklyn. Many of the other hate crimes in the subway were anti-black or related to sexual orientation, according to the NYPD Transit Bureau.
Some subway riders in largely Jewish sections of Brooklyn said they’re alarmed at the increase, which comes as hate crimes in New York City overall have jumped in the last two years.
“I’m always concerned,” said Yehuda Chechik, of Borough Park. “Anti-Semitism rips the country apart.”
According to NYPD figures, Transit Districts 30 and 34, which extend across multiple subway lines and neighborhoods in Brooklyn, have had six anti-Jewish incidents this year, as has Transit District 20 in Queens. The NYPD did not provide THE CITY with case-by-case details or locations.
“I’ve noticed it more and had an incident a month ago,” said Rivkah Schen, who was waiting for an F train at the 18th Avenue stop in Borough Park. “Somebody got upset and started yelling at me on the train — the person noticed that I was Jewish.”
The NYPD did not begin reporting the number of hate crimes to the MTA board until 2017, when 25 hate crimes against the Jewish community were reported. The change in policy followed years of prodding from Charles Moerdler, a then-MTA board member whose family fled Nazi Germany when he was a child.
“The people who do this are dead serious,” Moerdler said of perpetrators. “This is not a game for them.” Swastika sightings on trains also disrupt commutes.
On June 16, according to an internal incident report obtained by THE CITY, three trains on the No. 2 line were delayed because of graffiti that included a profanity and a swastika drawn in red and black marker. The train was taken out of service.
On January 29, C train service was slowed after a swastika was found on a subway car at 125th Street.
“Swastikas are jarring and triggering for anyone whose identity groups were targets of the original Nazis or the current inheritors of their ideology of racial purity,” said a Manhattan woman who tweeted photos to the MTA of a subway swastika.
“I was very impressed that the MTA took the train car out of service that very night until they could get rid of the swastika,” the 40-year-old woman told THE CITY. She asked that her name not be published out of fear of cyberharassment.
Moerdler said the increase in graffiti and words that attack Jews cannot be dismissed.
“Just saying, ‘Oh this is terrible!’ is not enough,” Moerdler said. “This is an expression of deep-seated antisocial behavior.”