A group of Coney Island boys say an MTA employee racially profiled them at a subway stop in Bensonhurst in late December, prompting an MTA investigation into the incident.
On December 27th, the six kids, ages 12 to 17 and all Black or Latino, had just finished a day of basketball, tag, and a trip to Burger King—food they purchased with gift cards provided by a local assemblymember.
But when they began their trip home from the subway station at Bay Parkway and 86th Street, they say they were immediately targeted by an MTA station agent in a ticketing booth, who announced over the loudspeaker he needed police back-up.
When the boys asked what happened, the worker said he was calling the police on them and had accused them of plans to jump the turnstile to avoid paying the $2.75 fare, 15-year-old Sincere Quinones said during a Monday press conference outside the subway station.
"We basically was just getting food, chilling, having a good day. Played some basketball, played some tag earlier," the Coney Island teenager said. "As soon as we stepped literally one foot into the station, the ticket booth man called for police assistance. So us being worried and nervous about what could possibly happen, we asked him, 'What happened, sir?' He said, 'the cops are coming for you guys.' We said, 'for us?' He said, 'yes'. We said, 'why?' He said, 'because you guys were going—key word, were going—to jump the turnstile.'"
The boys felt like they had been accused of wrongdoing—leading to the police being called—due to the color of their skin.
"Needless to mention, the boys were very upset by this accusation," said the Coney Island lawmaker, Frontus. "They came to the quick conclusion that this was being said to them because they are a group of Black and Latino boys."
The boys ultimately took the bus back to Coney Island, where they were met with police who told them to get off the bus to explain what happened, according to Frontus.
"The boys said that even though they were shaking, they explained what happened, that they had not done anything wrong, and that the police was called just as soon as they arrived at the station. According to the boys, the police let them go right on the spot, and said thank you for that explanation," Frontus explained.
Quinones said the boys were afraid police would violently arrest them, because the station agent had accused them of assault. In a video published on Facebook, the station agent can be seen behind the glass booth on the phone. One of the boys yells out, "We have money." When they ask how they have assaulted him, the man can be seen mouthing, "with your phone." The day after the incident, Quinones said he just wants justice for he and the other kids:
The teen's father, Victor Quinones, said, "I'm disgusted."
"My son came home shaking, screaming," Quinones said. "All he wanted to do was go home. That's all them boys wanted to do. They was there because they're good kids."
The MTA is investigating the incident. The boys have filled out a customer feedback form and plan to file a Title VI racial discrimination complaint against the transit authority.
"All customers of the transit system have the right to be treated with respect by our personnel—equal respect for all customers, regardless of skin color, race, age, gender, clothing styles, or any other personal attribute," said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan. "This isn't only the right thing to do, it's also required by law."
The station agent, who has not been identified but in a video appears to be a white man, has worked with the MTA for about a year and a half with no prior disciplinary history.
The MTA investigation comes after a string of high-profile incidents in which Black people have been falsely accused of wrongdoing—such as when Amy Cooper falsely accused a Black man of assaulting her while he was bird watching in Central Park, or when California resident Miya Ponsetto falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone at a SoHo hotel. Ponsetto now faces charges for attempted assault of the boy, and Cooper has been charged with false reports to police as well.
The Coney Island teens paid their bus fare. But NYPD crackdowns on fare evasion in the transit system have been criticized as racially biased, and the MTA has faced scrutiny for efforts to rid the subway system of homeless individuals—initiatives that end up harming Black and Hispanic subway riders the most.
Donovan, the MTA spokesperson, said the agency is using the incident as a "teaching moment" to develop "both refresher and new training content around bias" for workers dealing with subway and bus riders.
Frontus emphasized the boys were at Burger King that evening because two of them had been awarded gift cards for helping Coney Island resident Muñeca Lozada-Texidor deliver coats and food to homeless people in their neighborhood during the holiday season.
Though police were polite to the group of boys, police still told them to "stay out of trouble" and to have a MetroCard prepped ahead of time to swipe in to the train station immediately, which also angered them, according to Sincere and his father.
"Why should they have to walk in, walk through the turnstile, and take yourself as home as fast as possible? Why they can't go to a machine and buy a MetroCard? Why they can't get it from a clerk?" said Victor Quinones.
The agent allegedly referred to Miguel Navarro, one of the teenagers in the group, as "chino" during the incident as well.
"That was my first time experiencing that," 17-year-old Navarro said.
The teens want to see accountability following the incident, and they don't want young people to have to experience what they did.
"We don't want to hope, we want to know that eventually it'll all be peaceful and we can walk through the train without having to worry about someone racially profiling us for just trying to go home," Quinones said.