The increased levels of police violence in the MTA against predominantly commuters of color was indeed, as Reed illuminated, a catalyst for action. Yet, it is critical to analyze precisely why the MTA, and not another piece of “public” infrastructure, should become the forefront of struggle and political action at this point in time. The MTA is enigmatic, not only within New York City, but perhaps on a national or even global scale. New York’s subways see a vast array of people, regardless of socioeconomic status, converge on a daily basis as integral to the routine and rhythm of the city itself. Pre-coronavirus MTA ridership statistics boast New York City’s public transportation as the most utilized in the United States, accounting for one third of the country’s total public transportation ridership, and four fifths of New York’s rush hour commutes in 2017 (MTA). Additionally, 2018 statistics reported that less than half of New York City households owned private vehicles, with only 27% of New Yorkers commuting by automobile daily (NYCEDC, 2018). As such, the subway becomes a unique vessel through which a multitude of individuals interact: the custodian may sit next to the finance bro, who sits next to the high school student, who sits next to the yuppie, who sits next to the homeless person asking for change. For many, this is the only setting in which an individual experiences true socioeconomic integration (Reed Interview on February 22, 2021).
The MTA is a backbone on which so many must rely. Transportation is not only a means by which a diverse population commutes to work, but it is also a point of access to education, social opportunities, healthcare, and more. However, increased levels of policing and surveillance, as well as financial, physical, and logistical barriers to accessing “public” transportation, leaves those without external options (such as access to monthly MetroCards, private transportation, taxis, rideshares, and more) to fend for themselves. It is simultaneously crucial to acknowledge that in targeting the MTA, the FTP formation was not merely confronting the injustices of state violence and transportation inaccessibility, but also of the potentiality for a widely utilized piece of public infrastructure to become an axis for social and political change. In the reality that so many New Yorkers interact with public transportation on a daily basis, the MTA then became a powerful tool for advocating abolitionism.
The FTP formation importantly demonstrated that abolition is not simply the fight to rid society of police and prisons, but that it must center the improvement of our quality of life overall, particularly through disinvestment in police and reinvestment in public infrastructure and social programs, thereby strengthening communities. In bringing this demand directly to the site where injustice occurred, these protests were not purely symbolic in their demands or calls to action, but concrete. While I will later explore the role of site specific and decentralized organizing in the formation, I will now turn to the role of abolitionist rhetoric and practice in the movement.