Reginald Frazier was sweeping at the Dyckman Street subway stop in Upper Manhattan on Aug. 5 when he said, “Yo, man, no trains after 1 a.m.,” to a man who had walked into the station.
“He told me, ‘Shut the f--- up, I’ll punch you in the face,’” the 61-year-old station cleaner told THE CITY. “I said, ‘I don’t want to fight you, man, I’m at work.’ But he grabbed a crate and started swinging.”
The 2:15 a.m. confrontation ended, Frazier said, with him being bashed with the milk crate and tearing a tendon in his right knee while trying to escape his attacker in the desolate A train station. More than six months later, he has yet to return to work.
“I wasn’t sworn into this job to take beatdowns,” he said.
The MTA says five subway workers have been assaulted between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. since May, when the agency suspended round-the-clock passenger service due to the pandemic. By comparison, there were four attacks on employees between those hours from May 2019 to January 2020, when trains were still carrying passengers all night.
But the union for subway and bus employees contends the figures — which an MTA spokesperson said are for incidents that would be classified as assaults by New York State Penal Law — discount other kinds of attacks on transit workers during the overnight shutdown hours.
“By phrasing it that way, they’re cutting out spitting and other types of assaults that don’t fit under the Penal Law,” said Eric Loegel, a Transport Workers Union Local 100 vice president.
The five assaults make up 20% of the overall number of assaults in the subway since August, when the MTA started publishing figures. Since then, there have been nearly 300 instances of harassment in the subway across all hours.
“They assault us when the trains are running, they assault us in the middle of the night when there are no customers,” Loegel said. “It’s a problem that’s grown disproportionately out of control.”
At a City Council hearing Tuesday, MTA officials faced repeated calls from lawmakers and transit advocates to restore round-the-clock subway service. But MTA Chair Patrick Foye maintained the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. shutdown is needed for cleaning efforts that critics have called “hygiene theater.”
‘MTA Versus the Disturbed’
The NYPD said in November it would increase the number of police officers who patrol the subway system by about 200 after several people were pushed onto the tracks and following months of pressure from transit officials.
The MTA has also used its own police officers as well as private security guards in stations, as agency crime statistics for 2020 showed an increase in several major crime categories, including murder, rape and robbery.
“Ultimately, this all comes back to the mental health crisis we are seeing play out across the city and spilling into the transit system,” said Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit.
It’s playing out amid a string of subway slashings, even as MTA data shows ridership is down by nearly 70% from one year ago and with platforms supposed to be off-limits to riders after 1 a.m.
“If I had to describe the subway during the overnight, it’s the MTA versus the disturbed,” train operator Alexander Jaiserie told THE CITY.
Jaiserie, 23, and a conductor were attacked, according to an internal incident report, after pulling an empty No. 7 train into the Flushing-Main Street station around 3:45 a.m. on July 10.
“Leaving Willets Point, we heard of a disturbed person causing problems at Flushing Main and a request for police to come to the station,” he said. “So we knew there was somebody causing issues and to be aware of that.”
Jaiserie said a man on the platform blocked the two crew members from exiting the train’s first car — then pounced as they tried to walk between subway cars and again on the platform.
The man fled. An NYPD spokesperson said no one has been charged.
‘Protect Your Heroes’
“At nighttime, there’s nobody on the platforms,” said Narinder Kumar, a 70-year-old station agent who was pushed onto the tracks the Nassau Avenue G train stop in Brooklyn around 3 a.m. on Christmas Eve. “Anybody who wants to cause trouble feels like they are free to do what they want.”
Police said Jhonathan Martinez, 27, was charged with assault, harassment and reckless endangerment after allegedly shoving Kumar. Kumar, who suffered a back injury in the incident, said the man had blocked him from boarding a train to another station.
“I said, ‘Excuse me brother, let me go,’ and then he pushed me on the tracks,” Kumar said. “I was very lucky that day, I was a couple of inches away from the third rail.”
Frazier said the off-hours encounters such as the one he had at the Dyckman Street station — which led to police charging 36-year-old Ramon Garrido with assault — point to a need for more security for transit workers who are on duty.
“If you’re going to call us heroes, then protect your heroes,” he said. “We’re in full-blown danger and just want to be protected.”