The Controversial Reactions to Deploying the National Guard to New York Subways

Social Justice Policy Brief #159 | By: Devyne Byrd | March 19, 2024
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New York Governor Kathy Hochul introduced her plan to deploy the National Guard and State Police to conduct bag searches on the New York subway. Hochul stated it was a temporary measure to combat the rising crimes on the subway following a string of high-profile incidents that brought attention to the matter. She admitted the crimes were not statistically significant but were making residents uncomfortable. The governor stated, “If you feel better walking past someone in a uniform to make sure that someone doesn’t bring a knife or a gun on the subway, then that’s exactly why I did it.” Governor Hochul did not give a time frame for the temporary measure, explaining she did not want to tip criminals off with the information.

Though the increased police presence is the main and most controversial action, the Democratic Governor’s measures go further in a five-part plan. In addition to the National Guard, Hochul has allocated $20 million for mental health workers to assist those having crises, requested more money to add cameras, called for improved coordination between law enforcement and transit personnel, and proposed litigation that allows judges to bar those with criminal records from taking the subway, although it is not clear how this measure would be enforced.

The backlash to the plan was swift. Republicans critiqued the hypocrisy of the Democratic party proposing increased police presence, pointing out previous attempts by Republicans to take similar measures that were blocked. Democrats also objected to the plan on privacy grounds, questioning the effectiveness of the plan and the unintended consequences. A major critique of the policy is that it is likely to lead to racial discrimination and profiling. Though the policy is on its face racially neutral, opponents noted that it is reminiscent of New York’s previous stop and frisk program that allowed police officers to stop and search people they suspected were carrying weapons. That program was ruled unconstitutional as it disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic men. Critics of Hochul’s program suspect that the subway police presence will also lead to increased scrutiny of people of color in the same way. Shekar Krishnan, a representative of Queens voiced these fears, stating “We need to be investing in strategies that really keep us safe such as mental health services. Instead, what we are doing is fearmongering; that will only lead to Black and Brown New Yorkers being further over-policed.”

In response to Hochul’s controversial plan, on March 14th the Legal Defense Fund, advocacy organizations, and several New York City elected officials sent a joint letter to the Governor critiquing the plan and refuting the safety and psychological benefits that Hochul claims it would bring. The letter emphasizes the disproportionate harm increased policing will have on Black and Brown people, the criminalization of mental health issues, and the consequences banning people from the subway will have on their ability to meet basic needs. The letter also identifies the alternative solution of investing in public services claiming that “researched-backed studies make clear that public safety is achieved not by aggressive policing strategies, but rather through policies that promote economic stability.”

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