By Ariel Harmer
On Jan. 15, Michelle Go headed down the stairs at the Times Square subway station in New York to take her daily train. She never made it home.
While waiting for the train, a man rushed up behind Go and pushed her into the tracks, according to NBC New York. Her death was one in a string of rising subway-related crimes in New York and hate crimes perpetrated against Asian Americans across the nation.
According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, 18 New Yorkers have been murdered on the subways since March 2020, and nationwide reports show anti-Asian crimes jumped 342% from 2020 to 2021.
Both statistics are likely side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The stress of the pandemic and ensuing lockdown, plus a growing distrust in authority figures, contributed to the higher general crime rates.
As for the rise in anti-Asian crime, Stop AAPI Hate reports that misinformation on the coronavirus is likely the root cause. Because the virus originated in China, certain groups began to lay blame for the pandemic on all Asians. They turned to hatred, rather than reason, to cope with the pandemic.
Months after her death, Go no longer receives news coverage, but the effect of the crime still haunts the city. One New Yorker, Allison Cho, shared how the rising crime rate in her city still affects her.
“I don’t feel safe on the subways anymore,” she said. “Normally I’d listen to music or read on the train, but recently I feel like I have to be on my guard all the time.”
As an Asian woman, Cho fears being targeted for both her race and her gender. She still feels fairly safe in larger spaces, but she is on constant alert underground.
This sentiment is echoed by other New Yorkers. Wendy Bryn Harmer, an opera singer at the Met, has lived in the city for almost 19 years. The recent uptick in subway crime has left her feeling on edge.
“Honestly, I feel safer in New York than I do in most big cities, but the subway is the one place I feel slightly less safe than I did a few years ago,” she said. “It’s just scary, what’s been happening.”
Harmer is white. While she recognizes she would likely not be the target of a hate crime, she knows it’s not the same for all New Yorkers, especially people of color.
“I am very aware of how many of my friends, neighbors and colleagues feel,” she said.
While this sense of unease permeates many communities in the city, some New Yorkers don’t feel their safety is at risk.
“Safety comes from a state of mind,” said Harpreet Singh Wahan, a Sikh man from India who lives in Flushing, Queens.
As a Sikh living in in New York post-9/11, Wahan faced prejudice and hatred after the terrorist attacks. The people who carried out the attacks wore turbans like Wahan’s, and people often incorrectly assumed that all who wore such garments were similar.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Wahan faced several incidents where his safety was in question. Once, a small group of people started to throw rocks at his car while he was still inside. He said he felt people hated him because they didn’t understand who he really was.
Despite that event and others, Wahan never wavered in his love for the city. He decided to fight the misconceptions surrounding Sikhism by educating the public about his religion and helping them to overcome their prejudices. That year, he attended the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and handed out pamphlets with simple explanations of Sikh beliefs. Slowly, he began to feel more accepted in his community.
While anti-Sikh prejudice still rears its ugly head just as anti-Asian prejudice does, Wahan feels that his actions help him feel safer.
“I am here to convert the feeling of hatred into love,” he said. He believes his work towards that active conversion will make his city a safer place, and his efforts give him a sense of safety and purpose.
Other New Yorkers share Wahan’s hope. Andrew Nieves, a student who has lived in New York for most of his life, shared his perspective on rising crime in New York. Just like Wahan, Nieves acknowledges the pain New Yorkers feel, but he has faith in humanity and in the future.
Growing up, Nieves said, his parents shielded him from most crime and kept him safe. Nowadays, he sees the news and has to look out for himself.
“Back in my parents’ day, crime was pretty bad. Then it got better, and now it’s just getting worse again, probably because of the pandemic,” he said.
He believes this trend will continue and that New York crime rates will go down once again.
“We’re protective of our people,” he said. “Things will get better.”
Categories: New York