Returning home to the suburbs Wednesday, I told my husband about the violent, unprovoked attack I’d witnessed that afternoon on the Rockefeller Center subway platform at 2:40 p.m.
“Congratulations,” he said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now you’re a real New Yorker.”
I’d experienced a rite of passage that was all too familiar to folks like him, who lived in the city before Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton cleaned up the place in the 1990s.
My colleague and I watched in horror as a raging teenage girl beat the hell out of a twentysomething nanny. The reason? The nanny had dared glare at the teen who’d barged onto the uptown D with her posse without first letting passengers get off. They’d banged shoulders as the nanny tried to exit the train.
The assault lasted around 30 seconds — though it was more of a fight as the nanny defended herself with mixed martial arts moves. Still, at various points the high school girl had her in a headlock and kicked her in the face.
I was terrified the assailant was going to bang the victim’s head against the waiting train or the concrete floor. What if she was pushed onto the tracks onto the live rail or in front of an arriving train?
Not one bystander, including me, tried to break up the fracas. It came on too fast, too out-of-the-blue — and got too intense. No police were in sight.
Then it was over. The D was about to move, so the attacker and her friends slipped between the closing doors.
The nanny assured me she was OK but was late picking up her charge and had to leave the station right away. Though bruised, she seemed more upset about losing one of her $75 AirPods in the tussle.
Before moving to Westchester in 2012, I lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn for six years after relocating from Britain in 2005. I’d never seen anything remotely like this incident, on the New York subway or the London Underground.
In my native country, my cousin uses the Tube every day between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. “I feel very safe,” she says; there’s a guard on every platform. A friend says she’s more fearful of being pickpocketed than assaulted on her line.
But the heinous can happen. Six weeks ago, a 20-year-old man was fatally stabbed in what cops described as a “senseless attack” at Hillingdon station on the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. The killing caused national outrage, mostly because of how unusual it was.
Now I’m not headed back to the UK any time soon; we’re raising our kids here, and I love New York. But something tells me we made the right decision to buy a house 60 minutes, door-to-door, from my Midtown office.
I subscribe to a number of city moms’ groups on Facebook. Concerns are rising about violence on the streets, the lack of cops and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s flaccid attitude to crime.
I just joined the NYC Mommas Quality of Life Facebook group, launched by a mom appalled by a shooting near the West 64th Street playground last month. Commentators shake their heads about the safety of their children, the alarming decrease in officers at the 20th Precinct and de Blasio’s proposed gifts of free baseball tickets, movie passes and gift cards to encourage criminals to return to court.
This collective sense of unease is driving a Brooklyn friend who recently gave birth to consider a move to the suburbs after a decade in the city. Already aghast at last week’s report about a woman slammed by a stranger into the side of a subway car, she visibly paled as I relayed my D train incident.
Don’t get me wrong. I know crime has plummeted since the days when my husband lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant at the tail end of the crack epidemic. He saw brawls on the platforms at least once a week. In 1989, his roommate escaped a naked, machete-wielding man on a boiling hot day on the C train.
And I have my happy subway memories. In 2008, heavily pregnant, I was struggling too far from the exit door to get off a crowded 6 train. “Make way, make way,” a burly tattooed worker called out. “Momma’s coming through!” People dutifully moved aside and I made my stop.
I want that to represent the city, and the subway, of the future — not my awful “real New Yorker” moment.
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