By Amy Yee and Fola Akinnibi January 19, 2022
Killing highlights the mayor’s struggle to address crime, mental health challenges, and rising violence against the Asian community
The death of a woman shoved in front of a subway in Times Square is reverberating across New York City as the city’s new mayor tries to reverse the perception it’s riddled with crime.
Hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at a vigil on Tuesday night to mourn the death of Michelle Go, a 40-year-old manager at consulting firm Deloitte, whose death at the hands of a homeless man with mental health issues epitomized many of the challenges facing the pandemic-hit city.
Go was pushed onto the southbound Q train tracks at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday by Simon Martial, 61, who was experiencing homelessness and had a history of “emotionally disturbed encounters,” according to the New York Police Department.
Adams, the 22-year NYPD veteran who campaigned on reducing crime, arrived at the subway station within hours. In a press conference in front of the subway turnstiles, he wasted no time before he tied her death to his signature crime-fighting message, saying the incident “highlights why the commissioner and I rolled out a very significant plan in dealing with crime in our system and the mental health crisis we are facing.”
The killing was particularly obscene for New York City, where subway deaths remain rare. But the Times Square station was just one of many crime scenes Adams has appeared at since becoming mayor on Jan. 1, spending the last two weeks zigzagging the city to appear at incidents both large and small — a contrast from predecessor Bill de Blasio, who often kept a slower schedule.
In every appearance, the message is the same: Making the city’s streets and subways safer is imperative to bringing workers back to their offices and the city back to the economic strength it enjoyed before the pandemic. But each press conference — and the sometimes apocalyptic rhetoric used — also draws more attention to the fact that many New Yorkers don’t feel safe. “As we deal with the crime problem we also have to deal with the fact that people feel unsafe. That’s the dual battle I have,” he said at one of his appearances this week.
The city’s transit system has seen a near 30% increase in both assaults and robberies over the 28 days that ended Jan 9., compared to the same period in 2021. Transit crime remains below 2019 and 2020 levels, but the first week of January the city saw 58 crimes compared with 28 during the same period last year, NYPD data show.
Adams has said the perception of safety in the city’s subways is as important as crime itself, as subway ridership still lags. The mayor has pledged to shift 1,000 police officers to transit stations and require officers to walk inside train cars and interact with passengers instead of monitoring from the stations.
But the city already spends $208.9 million on nearly 2,600 transit cops. The Times Square station where Go was killed is a major transit hub and the busiest station by ridership in the entire system. The solution, lawmakers and advocates said Tuesday at the vigil for Go, isn’t just sending in more police.
“Those attending reflected on the intersection of complex and critical topics like poverty, mental health, and race,” said Deloitte Consulting Chief Executive Dan Helfrich, who attended the vigil, in a LinkedIn post that thanked the “hundreds of thousands of people from around the world who have reached out expressing sympathy in the wake of the tragic and senseless killing of our Deloitte teammate Michelle Go.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James struck a more forceful tone: “We have people living on the street. And we must admit it – who are a danger to themselves and others,” she said to the crowd. “It’s time to say enough.”
Outpouring of Support
The NYPD said that Go’s killing did not appear to be a hate crime. But her death elicited a strong response from the city’s Asian community, which was already reeling from a surge of incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic.
“Police officers have been forced to act as mental health first responders as they answer calls,” said U.S. Representative Grace Meng of Queens at the vigil, adding that “blaming certain communities and increasing tension will not solve the problem.”
In New York City, hate incidents against people of Asian descent rose by 361% to 129 in December 2021, from 28 in 2020, according to the New York Police Department. Across the U.S., hate crimes against that group rose 73% in 2020, said the FBI in October 2021. Across the U.S. there were 279 incidents in 2020 compared to 161 in 2019.
“We have experienced a rising tide of hatred aimed against Asian Americans,” James said. “AAPI voices must be heard. I must recognize the fear, anger and grief of the AAPI community. It must be recognized.”
““It’s clear that the AAPI community has been under attack for many years,” said Jumaane Williams, New York City public advocate, at the vigil. “It’s clear that so many of our AAPI New Yorkers have been attacked. It’s clear that there was a president who was pushing and pushing anti-Asian sentiments.”