New York Daily News
By Eboni K. Williams
August 16, 2022
I love New York City. Truly. Since I relocated here eight years ago, the city has embraced me and I’ve embraced it, planting roots here as a homeowner. New York City is my home. For all its challenges, one of my favorite things about the city is its subway system: the convenience it offers, its legacy and connection to the city’s culture, and the way it brings us all together.
But recently, that changed for me.
One Saturday afternoon, I was approaching the No. 1 train when as soon as the train car doors opened, I noticed a man staring at me, and then following me along the platform. I moved further away, disengaging for my own safety. Despite his intimidating stare, I broke eye contact and tried to fade into the crowd. His gaze persisted and after chasing me for a while, he assaulted me from behind, hitting my buttock and knocking me to the platform.
I was shocked. In a city where I have generally felt safe, I am now another statistic of subway violence. A few bystanders moved to help me up, then went on with their journeys. My assailant ran off. Two MTA workers were nearby and witnessed the incident but took no action. As I collected myself, I was even more shocked, and upset, that I had been left there, feeling helpless and alone.
As a woman, I’m familiar with feeling unsafe. Most of us feel vulnerable from the minute we leave our homes, commute to work, run errands or do other countless simple acts that should not involve fear or feeling frightened and unsafe. Especially those of us who don’t get to live in white skin.
As a Black woman, I’m painfully familiar with my struggles being ignored and erased. But I was still hurt and frustrated that not one person moved to offer aid before or during my attack.
That’s not okay. I don’t want anyone else to experience the feelings I felt on that platform.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, safety in the subway system has deteriorated. Reduced ridership because of COVID, a reduction in tourism and the displacement of homeless individuals and those with mental illness to the subway system have made riding the subway feel downright scary to many, including me. So far in 2022, more than 1,300 crimes have been reported in the transit system. That is close to the yearly total of transit crimes in 2019.
New York is still standing because New Yorkers know how to stick together. As violence rises in the city, we have to double down on that spirit of community protection. When we see someone struggling, we need to offer a helping hand. When we see bad behavior, we need to call it out.
I’m not advocating for vigilantism, just for people not to look the other way when people intimidate, threaten or hurt others. Bystanders can make an enormous difference — interrupting violence in some cases, supporting those harmed in others. Bystander intervention training is widely available and effective.
After getting up, I approached the MTA workers and consequently filed a police report. But how many women who fall prey to assault remain silent? Remain in the discomfort of being violated and feeling like they cannot turn to anyone for help? Feel that they do not matter?
The need for attention to these problems is dire. I implore the MTA to take decisive action, so that all staff members are ready, willing and able to assist individuals when they experience a crime within the system. It’s simply not acceptable for someone to be assaulted in front of public employees and get no urgent assistance.
Our legislators — and the people who are paid to protect us — also need to do better. We have to hold all agencies and elected officials accountable and make sure they take substantial action to ensure effective change happens.
This includes finding more effective ways to support those suffering from mental illness. Mayor Adams’ administration and the NYPD have announced plans to provide a robust, non-police response to mental health crises. This cannot remain rhetoric. This work must move forward as quickly as possible.
And we need to make sure that those experiencing violence have a place to turn to get the support they need. Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim’s services agency — where I’m a board member — is a fantastic place to start. Our advocates are available and ready to listen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In these downright dangerous times, organizations like Safe Horizon are more important than ever, and need all our support.
I know together we can make sure New York stays the greatest city in the world.
Williams is an attorney and cast member on “The Real Housewives of New York City.” She is a member of the board of directors of Safe Horizon, the nation’s largest victim services agency.