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Subway attack proves city’s resilience again: ‘We don’t have a choice’


The 36th Street subway station in Brooklyn on Wednesday, a day after a gunman opened fire on a rush-hour train arriving there.

By Sarah Maslin Nir


Faith Murray’s employer offered to send her home to the Bronx by taxi from her job as a nanny in Manhattan’s West Village last Tuesday. Her boss was worried: A gunman who had unloaded 33 bullets into a New York City subway car that morning was still on the loose.


Murray politely refused. As a New Yorker, she said, avoiding the subway was unthinkable. But even more than that, it was the statement it would make: that the city was giving in.


“Being a New Yorker, we are all used to these things, but it’s not going to stop us,” Murray said on a balmy Friday, two days after police arrested the man they said had carried out the attack. “That’s what they want, for you to be scared, and they are not going to win.”


She continued down the street, pushing her young charge in his stroller. “I’m sorry, uh-uh, no way,” she said.


A big city that has been buffeted by trauma — terrorists, hurricanes, disease — New York is well equipped to power through a crisis, or at least try. Just days after the rush-hour attack, subway ridership was ticking back up, the tipsters who had helped catch the suspect were basking in the city’s praise and the sun was shining.


On Friday, as the suspect, Frank R. James, 62, remained in jail, charged with the federal crime of committing a terrorist act on a mass transit system, the victims who were wounded in the attack continued their recoveries, and the city was once again picking itself up and going about its business.


“We are a fundamentally strong people, we are a diverse people, we carry a lot of exposure to past trauma that we’ve endured,” said Dr. Charles R. Marmar, chair of the psychiatry department at the NYU Langone Health hospital system. “In the same way we are COVID-inoculated, if you successfully master past stressors, then you become somewhat stress-inoculated.”


Still, more than two years into a grinding pandemic, the need to dip into even deeper reserves of fortitude can be taxing in itself.


“Frank Sinatra said: ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’” said Robert Finkel, a lawyer who lives in Manhattan. “But why does it have to be so tough? Why are we so proud of that?”


The day James was arrested in the East Village, subway ridership rebounded, transit officials said, up about 2% after dropping the day before in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, said 3.23 million people used the system Wednesday, about 91,000 fewer than on the same day the week before.


The decline last week followed what had been the system’s highest-ridership week this year, with passengers gradually returning after a steep drop-off in ridership at the start of the pandemic.


“We’re starting to see ridership come back, even after the incredibly disturbing news that we all saw this week,” Janno Lieber, the authority’s chair, said at a news conference Thursday.


New Yorkers — many of them, anyway — are acutely aware of what the city has been through.


“You can’t even fathom what it would be like to not be waiting for constant impending doom or the other shoe to drop,” said Serge Souvenir, 35, a heating and cooling technician who lives in Rosedale, Queens. Souvenir remembers the dust from the twin towers’ collapse drifting across the East River and into his high school gym class in Brooklyn, and he recalls thinking then that the mountain of rubble was too vast to ever be cleared.


But standing on Hudson Street in the West Village where he was working Friday morning, he pointed south, to where a new tower looms above the skyline, built where the two World Trade Center towers once stood.


“Look at the things we go through, and we bounce right back, like, ‘Oh look, another day in the office,’” Souvenir said. “When you look around and you see all the 8 million people lace their battle boots right back up, like, ‘All right, the world keeps turning,’ — you follow suit.”


On Tuesday, the city’s schools chancellor, David C. Banks, visited schools near the site of the shooting around dismissal time to check on students and teachers who had been forced to shelter in place order during the manhunt.


“He was taken aback by how they had everything under control,” said Nathaniel Styer, an Education Department spokesperson. “Those kids were surrounded by love and cared for and supported.”


For some people, there is little choice but to bounce back. One man who survived the N train attack and filmed some of the aftermath, said in an interview Tuesday that he had rushed straight from the scene to work at a nearby bodega.


The man, who did not give his name because he is not permitted to work legally in the United States, said that after changing his clothes and drinking some water, he was soon behind a hot grill, doing his job.


Bernard Middleton, 58, a retired city bus driver from Harlem, was back on the subway shortly after the shooting, seated on a downtown 1 train.


“We don’t have a choice,” Middleton said. “If we have to get to where we are going, we have to ride the subway, and we have to be vigilant. But because nobody died, it kind of helped me to get on the subway this morning. But I am still a little shaky.”


On Tuesday, Raven Haynes, a train conductor, was working on the N train heading toward the 36th Street station in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, when the shots rang out in the second car. She watched as frightened passengers streamed out of the smoke-filled subway.


At a news conference Friday, she said that she had taken a few days off since the shooting but that quitting had not crossed her mind.


“As soon as they allow me to go back,” Haynes said. “I’m going back.”

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