If you see something, you're supposed to say something—but what happens if you do say something and the NYPD doesn't care?
Such was the case for 14-year-old Bernie Levenson, who was taking the Q train to class at Edward Murrow High School yesterday morning when he was assaulted by a masked stranger. The assailant, who was dressed in a hunter's mask, sunglasses, a hat and several layers of clothes, was hunched over a shabby suitcase and didn't budge for the duration of the trip—right up until Levenson was about to exit near Avenue M, Levenson's mother Diane told us.
An unscathed Bernie Levenson. (Diane Levenson)
Suddenly, the heavily bundled straphanger sat up, reached into his suitcase and produced a "thin blue can of some aerosol spray," which he released into the air above Bernie's head. Bernie, understandably rattled, immediately exited the train and called his mom, recounting the story with the additional chilling detail that his chest was "burning." Diane called 911, Bernie proceeded to school.
She arrived at the school to be greeted by a full complement of police, the fire department, EMS and Hazmat. The Hazmat workers helpfully agreed the spray "smelled like some kind of cleaning fluid," and Bernie was whisked off to the hospital, where doctors there determined he was fine and had inhaled, as they put it, "a gaseous substance." He was discharged and sent back to school.
Diane is grateful her son is okay, but she is less than thrilled by the response from police. When she inquired as to whether they would be searching for the assailant, she was told by one officer that the suspect "could be anywhere by now," and that once the train traveled to a different precinct, it was no longer their business.
'"They said 'Well, the train has moved, and we don’t go into other precincts to look for somebody,'" she said. "It seems to me, if you're the police and see a car chase, do you actually stop at the [precinct] line?"
Moreover, both the officer and the school's assistant principal advised Bernie that if he finds himself being harassed on the subway in the future, the best thing to do is pull the emergency brake. Incorrect! Pulling the brake will automatically stop the train and lock the doors, meaning, as Diane put it in an email, that "MY SON WILL BE TRAPPED IN THE CAR WITH THE ASSAILANT."
A spokesperson for MTA tell us that the proper protocol is instead to "summon help from the train crew via the train's intercom," or, if the train is not equipped with an intercom, to "get the attention of a MTA employee or NYPD officer" once on the platform.
For the number of times a day commuters are instructed to "say something," Diane is surprised at the lack of institutional follow-through. "What," she asked, "is the purpose of saying anything if they don't do anything?"
NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.