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I Was Threatened With A Knife On The Subway Today
I’ve been riding the New York City subway system for over a decade now. I certainly didn’t expect what happened today.
At around 2PM today, I was going to get on the R train at Brooklyn’s Jay Street station. I walked down the nonfunctioning escalator and walked into the last train car. Suddenly, a man approached me and started swearing at me.
I didn’t really know what set him off. I didn’t bump into him or anything. The encounter was seemingly random, yet there were two dozen other riders in the train car with me. Perhaps it was because I was Asian, and he saw Asians as an easier target. Perhaps it because I was wearing a Los Angeles Angels baseball jersey, and he thought I was a member of the patrol group the Guardian Angels, a group that was known for monitoring the NYC subways for crime (and has probably dealt with him on previous occasions).
Instead of just walking away from a clearly deranged person, I yelled at him to get off. He responded by unzipping his hoodie and pulling out what appeared to be a screwdriver or a box cutter. He held it in front of him and started yelling at me to get off.
Now that he had his weapon out, I took some steps back and out of the train car. A woman, who I initially thought was his girlfriend, told him to calm down and leave the train car. After some more yelling, he did, and I got back into the car when he got out. The doors closed and the train began to move.
I sat down on a seat and the woman walked over to me. Turned out that she was an MTA (the transit system for NYC) worker and knew him because it wasn’t the first time he’d acted erratically on the train, that he was homeless and a regular on the R train, and that he’d been through “the system” many times without any change in behavior. And finally, that the weapon wasn’t a screwdriver, but a knife.
I was in a haze at that point. Perhaps if I hadn’t backed off, he would have stabbed me, and if it was an area like my neck, I could’ve died. Yet I just moved on with my life like nothing had happened. I sat in my seat and read an essay on Substack until I got home, where I just continued life like normal.
But looking back, I’m shocked at what happened. I remembered that 2017 incident in Portland where two men were stabbed to death on a train after confronting a mentally ill man that was yelling racial slurs. I remember that just last year, an Asian American woman in NYC was pushed to death on the subway tracks by a mentally ill homeless man. I remembered my own father telling me never to escalate things with a crazy person, because you never know what they might have. In the future, I will simply just walk away.
And now that I’m many hours removed, I thought about what could have happened politically, especially with a death on the NYC subway being prominent news for weeks now. If I had died, my face would be all over right-wing news sites contrasting my story with that of Jordan Neely: the man who died after being put into a headlock after he behaved violently on the train. The fact that the knife-wielder was Black and I was Asian also would’ve fanned the flames.
Right now, I feel fine. But just a few hours ago, I felt what many New Yorkers have felt when a crazy person comes into a subway car. This post isn’t meant to be some kind of political statement like my other posts. It’s just me processing an experience that happened to me and will alter the way I watch myself in a subway station in the future.