Subway Crime Part of City Life

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Riders unfazed by subway stabbing

On July 8, a Manhattan woman's regular morning subway commute was interrupted in the worst possible way. Without provocation or apparent motive, a fellow passenger on the uptown 6 train lunged at her with a steak knife and stabbed her, several times.

According to reports of the incident in the NY Daily News, Heather Burke was heading to her job as an administrator in an Upper East Side medical office when Ashley Jacob, 31, stabbed her in the shoulder and abdomen, just as the train was pulling into the 59th Street station.

Burke, 39, told the News, "She didn't run, she didn't jump or say anything. She just started stabbing me."

Jacob, who is homeless, was also reported to have punched another passenger in the ensuing struggle. When the train pulled into the station at 59th and Lexington, passengers streamed off in a panic, warning other travelers on the platform of the danger, according to the News. Jacob was restrained by a street cleaner passing through and later by guards from nearby Bloomingdales before being taken into custody by the NYPD.

Burke was taken to New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center where she underwent surgery and is expected to make a full recovery.

The News reported that the same number of assaults on trains occurred in the first quarter of last year as in 2013, but such attacks can spark fear in the imaginations of subway riders.

Our Town Downtown visited stops along the 4, 5, 6 - including at 59th Street - to hear how riders were reacting to the news.

Kat Hwang, who was waiting at the Astor Place stop and rides the 6 uptown every day, said she hadn't heard about the stabbing.

"It can happen to anyone," said Hwang, "It's New York."

Joel Russell, also waiting at the Astor Place stop, said he hopes the city would have an appropriate response and increase security. He noted, however, that random acts of violence are impossible to prevent.

"You can't ever predict the behavior of a deranged person," said Buscher.

Jennifer Beek was also waiting for the 6 at Astor Place and said she hadn't heard about the stabbing but was alarmed somebody could be attacked for no reason. Beek, who rides the subway every day for her job as an interior designer, said there should be more security in the subways.

"I think I'm just going to be more cautious," said Beek.

There is an explanation as to why urban dwellers may feel blase when confronted with news of a subway stabbing.

"Paradoxically, we New Yorkers may receive more information about crime incidents via the news, but it is also very unlikely that crime will happen to us personally," said Carla Shedd, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. "Urban dwellers already have so much stimuli to digest - or ignore - that it actually doesn't make much sense to worry about violence when its occurrence is actually quite rare, especially if you compare the rate of violent incidents now to the rates of the 1990s."

In a densely populated city, most people don't have the luxury of ensuring their safety when in public.

"What can you do?" said Shedd. "As a New Yorker, you likely won't be able to avoid subways or avoid other people. So, disaffect may be the most protective stance you can take along with hoping that the low probability of becoming a crime victim continues to work in your favor."

Tracy Siska, Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project, a non-profit organization that pushes evidence-based reform policy, said there's a correlation between the summer months - when it is hot - and violent crime.

Still, he cautioned against letting occasional random acts of violence have an influence on policy and individual attitudes towards living in an urban environment.

"The reality is there's violence everywhere, and if you let random acts of uncontrollable violence dictate your policies and your behavior, you'll always be subject to it," said Siska.

Straphanger Audrey Blauner, waiting at the 23rd Street stop on the uptown 6 line, was in Florida when the stabbing occurred, but said she didn't let the news bother her.

"I don't think about things like that a lot," said Blauner. "Things can happen anywhere."

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