'Swipe It Forward' Activists Protest NYPD Subway Arrests By Giving Out Free Rides

Paying for your fellow-travelers' subway trips builds community and helps fight overpolicing, activists say.
Paying for your fellow-travelers' subway trips builds community and helps fight overpolicing, activists say.

Police reform advocates and racial justice activists descended into New York Subway stations yesterday in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Harlem, swiping commuters through the turnstiles for free during the morning and evening rush-hours and asking those with unlimited MetroCards to swipe others through when they reached their destinations.

At 6 p.m. last night, about twenty activists gathered outside the turnstiles at the Lexington Avenue 125th Street stop. Kerbie Joseph, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition, stepped to the center of the hall and began calling out to commuters. "In 2017, they're going to raise the single-ride to $3," she said. "That's an outrage! You have the right to travel to your home, to your work, to any destination that you need to without worrying about it breaking your pockets."

For groups working on the Swipe It Forward project — which includes not only the ANSWER Coalition but also the Coalition to End Broken Windows, Why Accountability, Police Reform Organizing Project, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Black Lives Matter NYC Chapter, Black Youth Project 100 — the actions have two main goals.

The first: push back on a regime of ongoing subway fare hikes that have jacked the cost of a single ride pass nearly 40 percent in the last 20 years, even when adjusted for inflation, with much of that money going straight to big banks to service transit authority debt.

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The second: highlight the role that fare-beating arrests have played in the application of the aggressive "Broken Windows" police enforcement against minor "quality of life" violations.

"Theft of services" arrests for fare-beating remains a top category of "quality of life" enforcement, with more than 25,000 arrests made last year alone, and tens of thousands of summonses issued, each carrying fines of up to $100.

Defenders of this strategy argue that these minor stops are an invaluable tool for catching people with guns and outstanding warrants. Police reform advocates say fare-beating arrests disproportionately target poor and minority communities who rely on the subways the most to get to and from work.

Last night in the 125th-Street station, police looked on watchfully as activists swiped commuters through. Though police often crack down on people soliciting a swipe, there's no law against offering one, and according to MTA regulations it's perfectly fine to swipe someone else through on your unlimited card, provided you have finished the trip you last used it for.

Commuters generally responded positively to the message of the activists, and some were exuberant.

"Yes! Fuck the NYPD!" cried Ly Thierno, 20, of the Bronx, upon learning about the Swipe It Forward campaign. "The way the police act, it's too much. If you want to give me a summons for jumping the turnstile, I'm okay with that. But they're taking me down to the station, taking my fingerprints. It's too much. This isn't a crime. It's a violation!"

For the Swipe it Forward activists, the goal isn't just to challenge the NYPD to reconsider its aggressive stance on fare-beating, but to provoke a cultural shift among New Yorkers.

"Broken Windows has made us look at each other as nuisances, as potential sources of disorder, as a 311 call waiting to happen," says Josmar Trujillo, who works with the Coalition to End Broken Windows. "We're trying to bring back an older tradition, which is New Yorkers seeing each other and helping each other. If someone needs a ride and you've got a card, you swipe them through. It's a lot cheaper than spending all the money on police and jail and courts, and it's also just a better way to live together."


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