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How Safe Is New York’s Subway? What Its Workers Have to Say

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Few New Yorkers have Nicolet Seymour’s platform-level understanding of the city’s subways.
During her overnight shift cleaning the station at Eighth Avenue and 34th Street, she has gathered up needles and worked around people who refuse to move, or can’t. She has been cursed at and verbally abused. But she’s never been attacked.

“I know the Holy Spirit is with me, protecting me,” she said, though she hedges her bets by staying near the token booths, exits or employee break rooms, and within the sight of the platform cameras. In recent weeks, she has felt safer with more police officers around.

A string of shoves, stabbings and shootings on the trains have grabbed public attention, and with only a few days to go before the midterm election, safety on the state-run subway has emerged as a key issue in the unexpectedly tight race for governor.

While the chance of falling victim to violent crime on the subway remains low, according to a Times analysis, the topic provides fodder for television advertisements and campaign debates.

The people who spend the most time in and around the system — M.T.A. workers, vendors, shopkeepers, buskers — may be uniquely qualified to assess the subway’s problems and promise. In interviews over the past week, more than two dozen spoke to The New York Times, offering a nuanced portrait of a system that is both a bellwether and an engine for the city.

They described a system with fewer riders, but more volatile ones. They spoke of an increase in crime, but a system that transports the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers who ride each day without incident. Data bears them out.

A New York Times analysis of M.T.A. and police statistics shows that the possibility of falling victim to violent crime in the subway remains remote, even as the rate of violent crimes — murder, rape, felony assault and robbery — per subway ride has more than doubled since 2019, before the pandemic’s disruption.

Put into perspective, the current rate of 1.2 violent crimes for every one million rides is roughly equal to the chance of getting injured in a crash if one drives a car two miles.
Violent crimes per million subway rides.

Violent crimes include robbery, murder, rape and felony assault
Sources: New York City Police Department, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
By The New York Times.

But ridership remains far below prepandemic levels, exacerbating the system’s financial problems — and heightening fears on sparsely populated trains and platforms.

In October, the number of rides on any given weekday was around 3.5 million, about two million fewer than before the pandemic. But Manhattan’s Union Square station, where eight lines converge in one dim space, is nearly always crowded. Amari Singleton said he’s never felt unsafe while gathering donations for charities, nor has he witnessed violence. But he’s noticed a shift in attitude.

“As far as safety, I haven’t noticed any changes,” said Mr. Singleton, 22. “But as far as people being more protective of their space — that’s definitely changed.”

“A lot of people spent six months in the house, and I don’t think, socially, things will ever be the same,” he said.

Violent crimes on the subway this year are only about 2.6 percent of New York City’s total, but the randomness of many attacks has left riders fearful. There have been nine homicides this year, compared with an average of fewer than two in the years leading up to the pandemic.

This year’s first took place in the Bronx just hours into 2022, when thrown onto the tracks amid a fracas, was struck himself. The second came two weeks later in the system’s busiest station: Times Square.

who worked in finance, was shoved in front of an R train. The authorities said her attacker, a homeless man, had a history of crime and mental illness.

Other high-profile attacks included a mass shooting on the N train during the morning rush in April .

would help pay for an additional 1,200 overtime shifts per day for police officers to patrol the system. Mr. Adams said at the time that nearly half the homicides in the system this year were believed to have been committed by people with a history of mental health problems. Ms.

Hochul said the state would set up two new units at psychiatric centers to deal with people with serious mental illnesses.

John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School who specializes in criminal law and statistics, said that politicians are transfixed by raw numbers that belie the fact that there is a minimally significant increase in danger.

“Because this is New York City, something bad will happen every day somewhere,” said Mr. Pfaff. “You can choose to center that bad thing or put it in a broader perspective, and our politicians generally seem to favor centering the bad thing.”

In Brooklyn, at the Prospect Park B-Q-S stop, M.D. Khan, 46, dismissed the governor’s announcement.

This time, a lot of police here — the midterm election. That’s why I think they show off, you know, ‘We are doing something,’” said Mr. Khan, who joined the M.T.A. three months ago as a traffic checker collecting ridership information.

Larry Wright, 20, whose bucket drums provided a steady staccato above the rumble of passing 6 trains at Union Square, also expressed reservations about an increased police presence, saying he worried that it could lead to more profiling.

You’ve got to have experienced officers,” he said. “There’s a lot of rookie cops nowadays and nine times out of 10, they’re just rude.”

The Roosevelt Avenue station in Jackson Heights, Queens, last month was the site of the system’s ninth homicide, when prosecutors say a man 48, onto the tracks after a quarrel. Most offenses there are more mundane, but their regularity is disheartening.

Cecilia Wijaya, 42, has lost count of how many times she has been spat on at the convenience store inside the station that she and her husband have owned for 16 years. They shut down for three months in 2020 and barely saw any customers when they reopened. They suffered an armed robbery that year, losing $18,000 worth of goods. Thefts have continued and the police response has been slow, she said.

In Washington Heights, Doshary Abreu, 28, has worked her whole life at a convenience store that her parents own in the 181st Street station, and sees people shooting up in the open and harassing commuters. Residents “should feel safe in their own neighborhood, in their own station,” she said.

But Laila McCauley, 46, an agent at the station, said she hoped that the stronger police presence would alleviate the unease she says she has sometimes felt from people using the system as a refuge.

When they push them out of the hospitals, when they pull these services, when they put them out of the shelters — this is their home, this is where they come,” she said. “They’re not getting the help that they need, they’re not getting the services that they need, and they’re angry. And guess who that anger comes down on: transit workers and customers.”

In 2022, there have been 52 assaults on subway workers — and more than 280 cases where workers were threatened, spit on or otherwise harassed, according to M.T.A. data.

Nilda Lont, 54, of Highbridge, Bronx, who has been with the M.T.A. for 22 years and works as a safety representative for the Transport Workers Union Local 100, said that the system became “lawless” at the height of the pandemic. But she also believes the core issue is mental health, which cannot be addressed solely by more police officers.

Tony Utano, president of the union, said in statement that the governor and mayor “are squaring up to this crisis,” citing the increase in police officers and social workers, the new psychiatric units and the expansion of Kendra’s Law this year. That measure — named for Kendra Webdale, who was shoved to her death in front of a train in 1999 — allows judges to mandate psychiatric treatment for people deemed a danger.

Jairo Cardenas, 64, who has operated a shoe repair shop in Times Square for 32 years, has noticed an increased police presence lately, which he welcomed.

But with ridership still below normal levels, business is less than half what it was before the pandemic. There were once a dozen shops alongside his, but now there is just a single variety store.

John DeCarlo, who teaches criminal justice at the University of New Haven, stressed that the ramifications of subway crime go far beyond the incidents themselves, endangering the system that enables movement and commerce in the nation’s most populous city.

Fear of crime is debilitating,” he said. “Fear of crime almost put the city out of business in the ’80s.”

At the Lexington Avenue/59th Street station last week, a handful of M.T.A. workers in a break room lined with gray lockers said news about crime depresses ridership, but that an increase is inexorable.

People are back to work, people are moving,” said Carl Havens, 52, a cleaner. “In due time, things will change in a more positive direction. We just got to give it a little more time.”

As for Ms. Seymour, who is approaching three years in her station cleaning job, she has an investment in a functioning and safe system: her 8-month-old daughter, Cassandra, who wore a pink outfit with a matching cap as her mother spoke in the break room hours before her shift.

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A drug company abandoned a treatment for  ‘bubble boy disease.’ After a 5-year fight, this little girl is about to get it

Later this spring, a little girl in California who essentially has no immune system will receive a lifesaving treatment for “bubble boy disease” thanks to the persistence of a dogged group of parents, a pediatrician, a veteran newsman and a few episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Five-year-old Seersha Sulack has the same rare disease portrayed in the 1976 John Travolta movie, “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” A germ – even a common cold – could kill her, and so she stays away from anyone outside her immediate family.

The treatment she’s been waiting for had stunning, near-perfect results in a clinical trial, but it’s been sitting on the shelf for years in the US because the pharmaceutical company that once owned the license abandoned it when it decided not to not to pursue approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s a pretty tough situation,” said Dr. P.J. Brooks, acting director of the Division of Rare Diseases Research Innovation at the National Institute of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. “You have an effective therapy like (this one) and people can’t get access to it.”

Seersha is expected to get the treatment next month. She’ll become only the second child in the US in the past five years to receive it; the first child received it earlier this month.

The treatment is for a particular type of severe combined immunodeficiency called ADA-SCID that’s extremely rare – in the US, eight babies a year are born with it. Currently, 26 children in the US and Canada are on the waiting list to get the therapy, according to Dr. Donald Kohn, a UCLA scientist who has been working on the treatment for nearly 40 years.

The treatment is a type of gene therapy: Doctors will give Seersha a normal copy of the defective gene that disabled Seersha’s immune system.

Gene therapies hold great hope for all sorts of diseases, but they’re very expensive to develop, and pharmaceutical companies can’t be sure that they’ll make a profit because health insurance companies haven’t always agreed to pay the multi-million dollar price tags.

“It has not escaped our attention at FDA that there have been some clouds on the horizon in gene therapy,” Dr. Peter Marks, head of the US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said at a biotech conference in California in October. “We really want to try to see what we can do to move things forward.”

The gene therapy Seersha’s been waiting for was once called OTL-101, for Orchard Therapeutics Limited. Orchard launched in 2016 with OTL-101 as its “lead candidate,” but four years later, the company announced it would “reduce investment” in the therapy and prioritize treatments for more common conditions.

“A lot of us were upset and angry,” said Seersha’s mother, Shayla Sulack, noting that OTL-101 was developed with millions of dollars in state and federal government aid.

“We were always, ‘it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen,’ ” she added. Then, after Orchard decided not to pursue the therapy, “a bunch of us SCID moms were like, ‘Excuse me?’ ”

In a statement to CNN, an Orchard spokesperson wrote that “after encountering technical challenges related to the commercial-grade manufacture of this particular therapy, we made the very difficult decision to limit additional investment in [the SCID gene therapy].” The spokesperson spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A mother’s ‘oh, crap’ moment
Shayla and her husband, Stephen Sulack IV, were high school sweethearts at Tehachapi High School, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. In 2010, when she was 18 and he was 19, they married at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

Stephen was in the Army, and over the next few years, the young couple moved to various military bases. Their daughter Skylar was born in 2012 and son Stephen V in 2014.

In 2017, the family moved to Hawaii for Stephen’s new post as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot at Schofield Barracks in Oahu. Two weeks later, Seersha was born at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu.

Weighing 6 pounds and 10 ounces, Seersha appeared perfectly healthy, and her parents took her on family outings, going to Dole Plantation and Waikiki Beach when she was five days old.

Strolling around the shops near the beach that day, the family went into a Tesla dealership just for fun. While sitting in a showroom car, Shayla got a phone call from a number she didn’t recognize.

It was a geneticist at Tripler. He told Shayla that a routine blood test, a prick on a newborn’s heel done in nearly every state, showed Seersha’s level of T cells – a type of white blood cell crucial to fighting off infections – was just five. Normal T cell levels for newborns are around 3,000.

This meant any infection, no matter how small, could kill Seersha. The geneticist said to bring her back to the hospital at Tripler immediately.

Shayla says her first reaction was: “Oh, crap.”

Not only had they been going everywhere with their new baby, but Seersha’s big brother and sister had been affectionately pawing all over her.

Shayla and Stephen left the Tesla dealership and made the 20-minute drive to the hospital while Shayla’s parents took the older two children home in their car.

At Tripler, doctors explained more about SCID, and a psychologist was on hand to help the Sulacks deal with the shocking news.

Only about one baby a year is born with the SCID in Hawaii, according to Sylvia Mann, genetics coordinator at the state’s department of health.

The next day, Shayla and Seersha were on a military medical transport flight to Los Angeles. Seersha was in an incubator in the front of the plane, and the other patients were kept in the back to decrease the chances they could get her sick.

An ambulance drove Shayla and Seersha to UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, one of 47 medical centers in the US and Canada that specialize in SCID as members of the Primary Immune Deficiency Treatment Consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Once there, doctors laid out the options for saving Seersha’s life.

Options for Seersha
It turned out none of them were very good.

ADA-SCID is treated with regular injections to replace a missing enzyme that helps with immune function. They help a great deal, but they don’t give the child a full immune system, and their effectiveness can wane over time.

The UCLA doctors laid out two longer-term options. Seersha could receive a stem cell transplant, which is lifesaving and the standard treatment for SCID. Doctors would test her mother, father, brother, and sister and determine the best genetic match, and then would extract cells that specialize in forming blood cells and give them to Seersha.

Testing showed that any of her family members could donate to her, but none of them was a particularly good match. This was bad news for two reasons: One, the transplant likely wouldn’t be as effective. Two, Seersha would be more likely to suffer complications.

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Youssef Ramadan earns ACC Men’s Swimmer of the Year

After his historical season, Youssef Ramadan took the ACC Men’s Swimmer of the Year title for the 2022-23 season, the league announced Monday afternoon.

Ramadan became the first-ever national champion in program history, swimming the second-fastest 100 fly time in NCAA history at 43.15. He earned five All-American awards and two honorable mentions at NCAA’s.

Ramadan was named male MVP at ACC’s in February for the second year in a row, on top of two gold medals and two silver medals. He also took ACC Male Swimmer of the Week twice earlier in the season.

Throughout the 2022-23 season, he’s broken four individual school records and two relay records.

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Changes on tap for Americans who hunt waterfowl in Manitoba

Americans planning to hunt waterfowl this fall in Manitoba will be able to draw a seven-day license but must enter a lottery for a limited number of “foreign resident” licenses in subsequent years if they don’t book their trip through an outfitter, under new waterfowl regulations the province announced earlier this month.

“As part of the initial phase-in strategy for fall of 2023, Manitoba is ensuring that all applicants for the draw will receive a seven-day Foreign Resident Migratory Game Bird License,” Manitoba’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Northern Development said on its website. “In subsequent years the allocations for each license type will be determined based on license sales, hunter questionnaire data from all user groups and stakeholder input. The combination of the seven-day license and associated draw for freelance foreign resident hunters is intended to discourage visiting hunters from creating lasting systems of control that inhibit other hunters.”

The new regulations are a key component of the Waterfowl Hunting Modernization Project, a proposal the Manitoba government unveiled last fall before a 45-day comment period that ended Friday, Oct. 7.

American hunters will now have the opportunity to access the following Manitoba waterfowl and upland game bird licenses, the province said:

Foreign Resident Upland Game Bird License: Required to hunt upland birds and can be purchased online and is subject to the same regulatory framework as resident hunters.
Foreign Resident Migratory Game Bird License: Required to hunt migratory birds and is a seven-day license, which can be accessed either by entering a draw process or booking with a licensed outfitter.
Foreign Resident Legacy Migratory Game Bird License: A grandfathered opportunity for qualifying foreign resident landowners or lessees of Crown land.
To qualify for the special grandfathered provisions, Americans (and other foreign residents) must have owned property in Manitoba before Sept. 1, 2022, and still own that property; be a shareholder of a corporation owning registered property in Manitoba; or be a crown land lessee. Eligible land interest holders must also have hunted waterfowl in Manitoba during the previous five years between 2018 and 2022 to qualify for the legacy license.

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