Who’s Slashing People in the New York City Subway?

This January was the city’s safest on record—except for all the underground face-slashings.

Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters

Before his arrest, a Bronx man allegedly slashed two women in the face with a bottle, one on Dec. 31 and another on Jan. 6. On Jan. 16, a second New York man cut open a stranger’s face in the East Village, without provocation.

This January was New York City’s safest on record, the New York City Police Department says. But one kind of apparently random violence dominated the city’s headlines all month. Despite a drop in murder and shooting rates, New Yorkers just can’t seem to stop slashing strangers in the face.

On Jan. 25, a Brooklyn woman was slashed in the face while riding the subway through Greenwich Village. The following day saw two more slashing attacks, both inside moving trains. A fight in Harlem’s 110th Street subway station on Jan. 31 led to another face-stabbing incident.

It’s not the next “knockout game” or other trendy new crime story, police say. But the threat of random violence, especially in enclosed underground subway cars, has New Yorkers worried.

“New Yorkers have a right to be alarmed or concerned, particularly those riding the subways,” Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in a radio interview Sunday, adding that there is “no indication this was a pattern.”

“Riders should always be aware of their surroundings,” NYPD spokesman John Grimpel told The Daily Beast in an email. “And the NYPD has increased the police presence in the transit system.”

In Harlem on Monday, that expanded police presence was visible. At the 110th Street station, the site of Sunday’s slashing, three police officers roamed the platform, one jotting something down in his citation book as he walked away from a group of young men.

Reginald, a Harlem resident who declined to give his last name, said he welcomed more police but wished they would focus their efforts on safety rather than ticketing commuters.

“They worry about people hopping the train; they should worry about people getting slashed,” he said, adding that the enclosed subways made commuters feel “helpless” against potential attackers.

“I’m sure it’s been happening forever,” he said, “but now that it’s on the subway, it’s getting media attention and the city will have to fix it.”

But fears about public safety are nothing new on New York’s subways.

After ISIS’s November 2015 attacks on Paris, the NYPD stepped up security in New York’s transit hubs. In a series of high-profile 2012 attacks, multiple New Yorkers were pushed in front of oncoming subway trains. Fearing a trend of subway violence, commuters called on the city to install safety barriers in front of the tracks, then promptly abandoned the idea once the apparent murder spree left the front pages.

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“I feel like the longer you live in the city, the less you care or get concerned about each individual threat. ISIS, slashers, whatever,” East Village native Abbey Rowe said of the panic over the slashing attacks. “I definitely find it overblown.”

Other New Yorkers questioned whether the attacks would receive as much attention if some hadn’t occurred in wealthy, downtown Manhattan neighborhoods.

“Part of the overblown concern is a result of the fact that these issues are happening in extremely wealthy places like the West Village,” said Louise Matsakis, who passes through the neighborhood on her way to school.

“It’s hard to know the factors, or why anyone would decide to slash someone,” Reginald said. “Are they just angry at the world?”

But it will take more than some casual face-slashing to keep New Yorkers off the subway.

“It’s a little worrying,” Harlem resident Angel Grio said while waiting on the 110th Street platform. “But I grew up in this neighborhood, so it’s not too out of place. You just have to keep all four eyes open.”