On Thursday evening, an event occurred in New York City that represented one of the worst nightmares for city-dwellers.
Sunando Sen, a 46-year-old man, was shoved from a subway platform onto the tracks – the oncoming train killed him instantly.
Sen, an immigrant from India who had lived in the U.S. for twenty years and co-owned a Manhattan printing company, was pushed to his death by a ‘heavy-set Hispanic’ woman.
New York City police made an arrest in the case in Brooklyn on Saturday (a woman who was muttering to herself and reportedly has a history of mental health issues.)
Nonetheless, this was the story of two strangers who encounter each other at random in a huge, crowded metropolis – leading to a senseless tragedy.
Earlier this month, another immigrant resident of Queens, a Korean man, was shoved onto the subway tracks in Manhattan, resulting in his immediate demise.
This latest terrifying incident touched me particularly – although I did not know Mr. Sen, he and I are about the same age and share a common Bengali/Indian ancestry. In addition, the horror took place at the 40th St./Lowery St. subway station in Sunnyside, a neighborhood I lived in for two years in the early 1990s. (I typically used the next station over, at 46th St/Bliss St.)
However, such deaths on the subway system are relatively rare.
Including Sen, 139 people have been hit by New York subway trains so far this year, and 54 of them died, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said, according to Reuters.
But, MTA statistics also indicate that an average of 5.3-million people ride the trains every week last year. Annual ridership totaled 1.6 billion (more than five times the population of the U.S.).
Of course, this provides no comfort to Mr. Sen’s friends and family, who are grieving over the most pointless and incomprehensible kind of murder imaginable.
However, unlike some recent previous high-profile homicides in the U.S. (the massacre at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colo. and the unspeakable killings in a Connecticut elementary school), the murder of Sen involved no weapon – no gun, nor knife, not even sticks or stones. All it took was a quick shove in the face of an onrushing locomotive.
It was reported on Saturday night that the suspect’s motive was racial and religious enmity – she said she “hated Muslims and Hindus.”
But what actually links the Queens tragedy to those others is that the perpetrators were (or are) mentally ill – this is the real underlying foundation to these frightening crimes.
And, sadly, there exists no practical way to prevent these terrible incidents – not every person with mental illness can get access to expensive health care, and many don’t want to be treated.
The site of the murder, Sunnyside, Queens, is a relatively stable working-class neighborhood that was once dominated by the Irish. Many New York City cops and firefighters used to call it home – its most famous residents were probably the actor James Caan and Long Island congressman, Peter King. One of fictitious television character Archie Bunker’s best friends, ‘Petey’ Peterson, hailed from Sunnyside.
The sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle still live there (replenished by newer arrivals from the homeland), but they have been joined in recent decades by immigrants from the far-flung corners of the world, including Koreans, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Turks, Colombians, Mexicans and others.
Sunnyside Gardens, where I lived in a basement apartment, was a lovely tree-lined neighborhood that somewhat resembled an old-fashioned English village – in stark contrast to the grittier, urban tenements that dominated much of the vicinity.
Homeowners were quite paranoid, employing ‘neighborhood watch committees’ although crime was virtually nonexistent, save for an occasional auto break-in or a drunken brawl spilling out of one of the many bars along Queens Boulevard.
Like many other similar neighborhoods scattered around Queens and Brooklyn, most young people living in Sunnyside planned to move out eventually to ‘better’ neighborhoods, while some young families choose to settle.
Thus, Sunnyside has become a kind of ‘way station’ for immigrants climbing the ladder of the ‘American Dream.’
For one Sunando Sen, that dream was shattered permanently.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.