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Commentary Economic Justice

Increased Police Presence in New York Subways Is a Reproductive Justice Issue

Merle McGee

When our youth are having guns pointed at them for hopping a turnstile, that is reproductive injustice.

In New York City, the increased police presence on our subways must be understood as a critical reproductive justice issue, as well as a pressing issue of economic and racial equity.

Over 2,500 police officers patrol the city’s subway stations, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) plans to deploy 500 new cops to supposedly cut down on fare evasion, which has nearly doubled to 3.2 percent in recent years, and crime—even though the New York Police Department (NYPD) says serious crime in the subway system is down.

The extreme crackdown is a far cry from keeping our communities safer: It has resulted in further criminalization of Black and brown youth, the aggressive detainment of immigrants, and the targeting and traumatization of our most marginalized populations. I applaud state Attorney General Letitia James (D) for her recent announcement of an investigation into the NYPD’s enforcement methods for fare evasion, knowing that communities of color are disproportionately affected.

An increase in police presence when crime in subways is actually down is hardly an investment in public safety. The cost of public transportation is already an impediment to low-income New Yorkers. A person’s dignity is worth more than $2.75.

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Reproductive justice is “the human right to maintain bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and healthy communities,” according to the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Started by Black women over 25 years ago, the reproductive justice movement situates reproductive rights within the larger context of the well-being of not just women, but also their families and communities. The achievement of reproductive justice is intimately tied to deconstructing intersecting systems of power, patriarchy, and oppression.

As many advocates, public health professionals, and medical providers argue, reproductive health access is about much more than the legality of abortion. Access is about affordability, safety, education, and cultural attitudes pertaining to all facets of sexual and reproductive care.

The nature of policing in New York City can be predatory, with police officers often hiding in wait for people to jump the turnstile in neighborhoods of color. Parents should never have to fear that their children will suffer police brutality on their ride home from school. When our youth have guns pointed at them for hopping a turnstile, that is reproductive injustice. When immigrant women have their livelihoods threatened for selling churros in the station, that is reproductive injustice. When we criminalize people for being poor, being Black or brown, or just trying to make a living, that is reproductive injustice. And it is unacceptable.

As Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, a health-care provider that thousands rely on every year, we know intimately the struggles many patients face just to access the care they need. From financial struggles to understanding insurance, fear of deportation and language barriers, something as simple as a breast cancer screening or an STI test can become an insurmountable hurdle. The uncomplicated act of getting on the subway to get to your health-care appointment on time should not be yet another hurdle that threatens your safety, your well-being, or your mental health as an immigrant, a poor person, or a person of color.

In coalition with the Riders Alliance, a New York City-based group that fights for reliable and affordable public transportation, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York has frequently framed subway accessibility and safety as a reproductive justice issue. People need to get to their health-care providers—plain and simple. Hiked up fares are already a roadblock to patients; now, an increased police presence only intensifies the struggle low-income New Yorkers have long faced in just getting from point A to point B.

Our city poses itself as the forefront of progressiveness in the United States today. This increased police presence proves we’re far from the safe haven for vulnerable communities we think we are.

Hopping a turnstile or illegally selling food on the subway does not need to end in handcuffs. New Yorkers deserve better. This is a city where we celebrate our many identities, cultures, and vibrant communities. How can we celebrate ourselves as a “melting pot” while targeting people of color? While preventing reproductive health-care access? While threatening children’s safety on their commute home from school, and instilling fear in our immigrant communities?

We should be investing in our communities and making health care easier and safer to access, not less. My hope is that the attorney general’s investigation holds our police accountable, and can support a new pathway for relationships between law enforcement and Black and brown communities.

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