Mahsa Mehrdad and Masih Rahmati, an Iranian couple residing in NYC, were riding the subway through Manhattan on Saturday night when a man threatened to kill them and told them to "go back to your own country." In a video of the incident, the man can be heard declaring that "Donald Trump is in the house," before telling the couple, "I'll kill all three of you at one time." (Rahmati speculates that a third man sitting nearby was lumped into the threat.)


According to Rahmati, 32, the man started glaring at them as they boarded the C train at 34th street, and his anger became increasingly visible as the train emptied out north of 59th Street. "At one point he looked at my girlfriend and said, 'I will kill you first,'" Rahmati, a third-year PhD student in cognitive neuroscience at NYU told Gothamist. "I was very nervous that he would do something, so I was ready if he attacked for us to run away or to block him from my girlfriend." The man exited the train with the couple at 145th Street, but he did not appear to follow them, Rahmati said.

On the Sunday following the incident, Mehrdad and Rahmati showed the video to a police officer at the 145th Street station. "[The officer] tried to calm us down and explained to us that he can file a report but that the guy looks mentally ill and that there are a lot of them around, but we shouldn't expect the police to go after him and arrest him," Rahmati said. The couple ultimately decided not to file a police report.

Mehrdad did elect to share the video on Facebook, accompanied by a series of questions, including "What should we do in a situation like this?" and "What is a proper action to shut down racist comments while not escalating the situation?"

The responses, more than 50 so far, offer a window into a community of people, many of them Middle Eastern, who are also wrestling with these non-hypothetical questions. Citing similar experiences in San Francisco, Minnesota, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in New York, some commenters suggested that it's best to immediately seek out a police officer, while others warned against taping these incidents for fear of further enraging the attackers. "I don't know the right answer here," said one commenter, "I always just try and distance myself from the threat."

The racist threat fits within a citywide trend of rising hate incidents, particularly on the subway, since President Trump's election. Data from the first two months of 2017 show a 55 percent jump in hate crimes across the five boroughs, as well as a 340 percent increase in reported hate crimes on the subway, with 22 reported incidents compared to just five over the same period last year.

In November, after a Muslim teenager was verbally attacked for wearing a hijab on a Queens Bus, we spoke with Dr. Debbie Almontaser, board president of the Muslim Community Network, who urged Muslims Americans to be vigilant in the face of mounting hatred. “Consider what time of day they go out, what neighborhoods they are in, and really try to travel with other people,” she said. “Try to not be out late... really try not to be on [your] phones, which could be a distraction."

"There's no question this sudden increase in bias incidents is directly related to the hateful rhetoric we heard during the election season," Mayor de Blasio told reporters last week. "We're trying to do everything we can to show that those who commit acts of hate will suffer the consequences."

In response to questions about whether the video justified an investigation, and how people should respond to verbal threats made on their race, a spokesperson for the NYPD said, "All crime victims are encouraged to file a complaint report with police." The MTA did not respond to a request for comment.