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Brooklyn subway attack rattles a multicultural, working-class community

Members of the New York Police Department and emergency vehicles crowd the streets near a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Tuesday.
Timothy A. Clary
AFP via Getty Images
Members of the New York Police Department and emergency vehicles crowd the streets near a subway station in the Brooklyn borough of New York on Tuesday.

As the subway attack in Brooklyn's Sunset Park dominates national news, elected officials, activists and residents are speaking up about the struggles and strengths of a diverse community suddenly in the spotlight.

Specifically, they note, it is home to a large immigrant and working-class population, members of which depend heavily on the subway system to get around.

Sunset Park — which is home to Brooklyn's Chinatown — is 27% Chinese and 39% Hispanic, according to the Asian American Federation, which calls the neighborhood "a wonderful microcosm of what makes NYC great." But it also notes that some 24% of Asian Americans in Sunset Park live in poverty.

"Today's tragedy has once again shaken our immigrant, working-class and vulnerable communities," the nonprofit wrote on Twitter.

Area residents turned to social media to dispel stereotypes about the neighborhood. Dominique Jean-Louis, a public historian, described it not as "yuppies with $7 lattes Brooklyn" but rather "soccer and paletas and 'ICE couldn't detain anyone because their neighbors chased them out the building' Brooklyn."

Her tweet racked up more than 31,000 likes and set off a chain of replies, with other commenters expressing agreement and adding their favorite things about the neighborhood, from its namesake park and public pool to its social justice and climate activism.

"Sunset Park is a transformational, leader-full, working class community dealing with challenges of displacement, ice raids, health disparities, but responds with collective care & love every time there is a [crisis]," wrote UPROSE, a grassroots social services organization based in Brooklyn.

Local voices are drawing attention to the fear and disruption that Tuesday's incident has caused, especially in a city and community where the subway is among the most affordable means of transportation.

New York State Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, whose district includes Sunset Park, described the station as "a hub for our local working-class immigrant communities."

Qian Julie Wang, a writer and civil rights lawyer, noted on Twitter that just one hour of subway closure can be costly — and that Sunset Park residents, like all New Yorkers, deserve to feel safe.

"The subway is the artery of the city," she wrote. "Each attack drains the lifeblood of our home."

Sunset Park, like many New York City neighborhoods, has dealt with its share of challenges in recent years, as its local elected officials pointed out.

In a joint statement, Mitaynes and New York City Council Member Alexa Avilés said that the community is still "coming out of the collective trauma of this pandemic" and that Tuesday's incident has added to this pain.

Citing reports that police on the scene needed help from commuters with calling 911, the officials said that a larger police presence on trains or in the neighborhood could not have prevented the attack and that what the district needs is reassurance that "our pain will not be used as a scapegoat for policies that won't keep us safer."

They also called for investments in social services like housing, health care and education, and an end to the manufacturing and flow of guns in the U.S. And they added:

"We are asking our partners in City, State and Federal government for a multi-faceted, effective and evidence-based public safety response, including abundant mental health resources for victims in the near-term, in addition to dramatic investments in violence prevention and interruption programs, full employment, and guaranteed housing moving forward — before more people get hurt."

This story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.