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Hate on the train: Racial aggressions increase on New York City subway, including towards Latinos

A 'Dreamer' tells Univision about the assault he suffered in January, which landed him in the hospital. Incidents of hate on the city's transportation system are up this year overall.
5 Abr 2017 – 03:58 PM EDT
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Passengers travel in the New York City subway Crédito: Getty

Editor's note: The following story contains expletives.

Maycon Martinez Cruz, a DACA beneficiary of Mexican origin, entered the subway at Wall Street station Jan. 8. Tired after working a shift at a restaurant in Lower Manhattan, he sat down in a seat and closed his eyes.

Immediately he was awakened by screaming: "Give me that fucking seat, son of a bitch." Then the attacker, a black man who, according to Martinez, appeared to be drunk or on drugs, struck him in the head with the handle of the knife and continued to hurl insults: "We will kill all of them and remove them from our country."

"I could not move, I was in shock," said the 26-year-old Hispanic, who immediately started bleeding and had to be treated for his injuries at Mount Sinai Hospital. "I thought that man was going to kill me."

Univision received Martinez's story through ' Documenting Hate,’ a project that is tracking bias incidents and hate crimes around the country since the presidential election. His is one of three testimonies sent to us by Hispanics who were targeted with racist verbal assaults on the city’s subway.

In addition, several cases of verbal assault and racism on the subway have gone viral in recent months.

In early February, a group of passengers organized to erase swastikas painted on the walls of a train car. Then in March, a Hispanic woman defended two "Indian-Muslim" travelers from a Puerto Rican woman who was harassing them. This week a new video captured a traveler threatening to kill foreigners and shouting, "Donald Trump is in the house."

All these stories are part of a larger trend.

The New York City Human Rights Commission accounted for a 480 percent increase in discriminatory harassment claims in the metro between 2015 and 2016, according to The New York Times. So far this year, police have recorded 22 hate crimes on the transportation network: 11 in Manhattan, eight in Brooklyn, two in Queens and one in the Bronx. That represents a 340 percent increase over the same period last year, when there were only five.

New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio has responded to the reports, blaming Trump’s election for the increase of intolerance. "There's no question this sudden increase in bias incidents is directly related to the hateful rhetoric we heard during the election season," he said late last month.

A diverse subway reflects a diverse city

New York City is often called the greatest melting pot of cultures in the world, and its racial diversity also travels by subway. According to a 2012 study, the city's metro system, which is used by five million people everyday, is the most diverse in the country and carries a greater percentage of minorities (Hispanic, Black and Asian) than whites.

The perpetrators of the recent incidents of hate do not belong to groups, gangs or movements that promote hatred, but are individuals who feel the need to attack, said Joseph Fox, Head of the Transit Department of the New York Police Department.

But that doesn’t make Martinez feel any better. He’s still recovering from the assault. "If I could, I would leave the United States today, but I have nowhere to go," the young man said. "When you are discriminated against, something in you changes.”

Following the assault, he was reluctant to go to the police for fear of revealing his immigration status. In the end, he denounced the incident. Police watched footage from security cameras and questioned a couple traveling in the car, but could not physically identify the attacker. The case was closed.

"I was heartbroken when I was told that Mr. Cruz was too afraid" to go to the police, said Eric Buckvar, a lawyer who was on the train and who helped Martinez after the assault. "Whatever anger was in that man, he knew he could unload it on someone who would be afraid to complain because he was a stranger in a strange land."

Undocumented immigrants who are victims are often reluctant to report.

Martinez said he was touched by the reaction of fellow travelers: a couple who came to his aid, another Hispanic who helped translate and Buckvar himself: "I never expected them to help me on the subway," he says. “There are still Americans willing to put their hands into the fire for us Hispanics."

If you have experienced hate or discrimination in New York, you can call the state line designed to address reports, (888) 392-3644 from Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, or send a text with the word "HATE" to 81336. You can also call the NYPD Crime Stoppers line at 1-800-577-TIPS.