Hundreds gathered and some were arrested on Friday, as the city swells police force on subways and buses
More than 500 people gathered in New York Citys Grand Central Terminal on Friday night to demonstrate against a growing police presence on the subway.
Commuters in the bustling terminal, some agitated, wove through the protest. Others gawked at the spectacle, as demonstrators held signs that read poverty is not a crime and the real farebeaters are on Wall Street and chanted: How do you spell racist? NYPD.
Multiple people were arrested, some within minutes of the protest beginning. Police whisked away a handful of demonstrators in masks, causing agitation among those gathered.
It was the third protest organized by a group of grassroots organizations calling itself the FTP Coalition. The coalitions main priority is to plan large protests against the MTA and NYPD, to advocate for a reduced police presence in the subway system.
In November, the coalition held two protests, a mass fare evasion in which hundreds of people jumped the subways turnstiles at a station in Brooklyn, and a protest that went through the streets in Harlem, shutting down traffic and briefly halting a subway line.
Organizers told the Guardian FTP stands for Fuck the Police, when it comes to the protests against the MTA.
The coalition was created in response to viral incidents that happened in October, including one video showing police drawing their guns and storming a subway car. The NYPD later said a witness informed the police a young man had a gun, though he was unarmed when they approached him.
Last summer, the MTA increased police presence in the system, adding 200 NYPD officers and 300 of its own officers to the subways and buses. In September, news broke that the MTA would hire 500 additional police officers on top of the redeployment to bulk up its current force of more than 750, officers tasked with patrolling buses, subways and commuter rails throughout New York state. Justifications for the hire ranged from combating fare evasion to fixing quality of life issues on the subway.
Despite months of criticism from advocacy groups in the city, the MTA has not backed down.
Social media was a vital tool for organizing Fridays protest and building support for the movement. The coalition funneled information about protests through the social media accounts of Decolonize This Place, a grassroots organization.
In the weeks leading up to the protest, the coalition published materials informing the public about the protests goals and encouraging people to join. A video of three people in masks and bandanas was released. The mood for J31 is simple: fuck your $2.75, no cops in the MTA, free transit, no harassment period and full accessibility, a person said, their voice deepened for anonymity.
Multiple people at the protest said they heard about it on social media and were inspired to jump in with their support.
They [the MTA] penalize being poor, poverty is being penalized, said a protestor who wished to remain anonymous. There are people who cant support, so what are they supposed to do?
S Diaz, an educator from Brooklyn, said she was tired of seeing her community struggle to pay the $2.75 fare. I think its ridiculous that the wealthy here arent paying their share.
The protest eventually made its way out of Grand Central and into a nearby subway station, where protestors headed toward Brooklyn. Along the way, many took out permanent markers and wrote FTP on the walls of stations.
In Brooklyn, the crowd gathered in Restoration Plaza and had a brief stand-off with police, shouting cops go home as blue and red lights from police cars shone on their faces. Police stood across from the protestors, a large white corrections bus beside them.
The crowd walked deeper into Brooklyn, marching in the streets and on the sidewalks, often stalling traffic. Onlookers peering out of apartment windows cheered them on, some chanting along with the crowd.
The protest was taken back to Manhattan via subway. At one side of Utica Avenue station, protestors were taping open gates, encouraging people to evade the fare. Soon, officers rushed to tackle one black man to the ground. The man walked away in handcuffs.
Groups dispersed, bringing the protest to Union Square and police headquarters in Manhattan to offer jail support for those arrested.
FTP? Fuck the police the protestors chanted outside NYPD headquarters towards the end of the night, as more than 30 police officers looked on.
In a statement on Friday night, Patrick Warren, MTAs chief safety officer, said: This demonstration activity follows the dangerous pattern of previous activities that have resulted in vandalization and defacement of MTA property clearly violating laws.
The MTA has zero tolerance for any actions that threaten the safety of the public and our employees, and impede service for millions of customers.