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Commuter frustration blamed for uptick in attacks on transit workers

NEW YORK — Commuter frustration has caused an uptick in assaults against transit workers with six employees attacked in a recent five-day period, officials said.

Train Operator Elliot Strickland (right) talking to Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano at the Union Hall in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
(Courtesy TWU)

The assault of an MTA employee is a felony, but it isn’t being enforced that way in court, Transport Workers Union Local 100 President Tony Utano said. Frustrated riders don’t feel they’ll face serious punishments.

“People are getting frustrated and who are they taking it out on? It’s the person with the uniform in front of them,” he said.

Train operator Elliot Strickland is one of the uniformed men who’s been assaulted in recent days. Riders were confused about how to get to 33rd Street on Sunday and Strickland was about to point the group of people toward the correct uptown subway when he was berated with racial slurs.

“I was attacked with being called racial slurs such as n—-r and stupid m———-r,” he said, explaining that one member of the group then spat at him. “The spray went from my toes to my chin.”

Strickland has been with the MTA since 2002. The May 3 incident was his first time being spat on while working.

“I’m trying to help someone get where they’re trying to go and I was cursed out and spoken to in that manner,” he said. “Then to have the female turn and spit at me, it was literally just shock and rage at that point.”

A TWU spokesman detailed a series of recent assaults from May 30 until June 3. Several conductors were slapped in the face and one was punched. A cleaner was verbally assaulted.

Assaulting an MTA employee is a Class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. Utano would like to see more enforcement of that law.

“They just can’t go in and get a slap on the hand and walk out,” he said.

The transit union would also like more cameras on trains facing platforms and more police on the platforms

“People will think twice before they assault a transit worker,” Utano said.

An MTA spokesman noted it’s the NYPD’s responsibility to prevent crime and enforce the law on the subway.

“I’m appalled whenever an employee is attacked,” New York City Transit President Andy Byford said. “Attacks on transit workers are abhorrent and an important component of our Fast Forward plan to modernize Transit is to work even more closely with law enforcement to ensure that the women and men who move more than 8 million people a day receive the protection and respect they deserve.”