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Spate of random slashings puts New Yorkers on edge

A 71-year-old grandmother sitting by herself on a subway car in Lower Manhattan.

A 30-year-old man walking down a street in the East Village, listening to music and enjoying a leisurely Saturday afternoon.

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Spate of slashings hit New York city

New Yorkers are on edge after several recent stabbing attacks on subway commuters and people walking the streets.

A 24-year-old woman heading to her job at Whole Foods in Chelsea.

All strangers. All slashed by men wielding knives or razors.

At least nine other men and women have been similarly attacked in recent months in a rash of slashings that has put many New Yorkers on edge.

Crime — even in this gentler New York City — is a part of life.

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But a crime with no discernible motive besides rage and no particular pattern beside absolute randomness causes a particular kind of dread in a city where strangers often find themselves side by side in subway cars or on crowded sidewalks.

"It is alarming to people," Joseph Fox, the chief of the New York Police Department's Transit Bureau, said of the slashings. "Everyone sees themselves in that place."

Chief Fox acknowledged a recent uptick in these types of crimes, but noted that over all the subway was exceedingly safe. With nearly six million people travelling underground, there are fewer than seven crimes reported on an average day.

When it comes to slashings on the subway, Chief Fox said, in about half of the cases there was some sort of dispute between the assailant and the victim before the attack.

But as was the case with the 71-year-old woman assaulted on Monday, there have been cases in which there was "absolutely no prior contact," he said.

"Those are particularly horrible," he continued.

In the case on Monday, a suspect has been arrested.

Chief Fox said that in the wake of the recent attacks, the police were studying the trends and shifting officers.

The police do not categorise random slashings as a distinct crime, so it is impossible to know if the recent influx of reports of attacks represents a drastic increase in the number.

But just on Tuesday night there were two more seemingly random and separate assaults within an hour of each other.

Natalie Lewis, 29, and her sister were waiting for a train at the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Centre station in Brooklyn around 9.30pm when, according to the police, she was bumped by a man.

They argued and later, as the train was pulling into the Eastern Parkway station, the man pulled an object — 60 centimetres long — from his bag and used it to attack Ms Lewis.

"I will chop you up on this train," he reportedly shouted.

At around the same time as that attack, a 32-year-old man was slashed in the face while he waited for a Brooklyn-bound No. 6 train at 116th Street and Lexington Avenue in Harlem.

At a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meeting on Wednesday morning, Fernando Ferrer, the board's vice chairman, said the authority was working with the police to respond to the attacks.

"They are redoubling their efforts on city subways," Mr Ferrer said of the police.

Police Commissioner William J. Bratton played down the idea that there was a copycat phenomenon at work. "Each one seems to have its own motivation when we make the arrest and we get into what was behind it," Mr Bratton said.

He also noted that "some of the individuals we're dealing with are emotionally disturbed, or off their meds."

Despite the chilling nature of the attacks, Mr Bratton did not seem particularly worried. "We always will have crime in the city," he said, repeating a common refrain of his.

His chief of detectives, Robert K. Boyce, described the recent string of attacks "as a little unusual for us."

Last week, Anthony Christopher Smith, 30, was slashed on an East Village street in the middle of the afternoon.

"I had my earbuds on," Mr Smith recalled in an interview with WCBS-TV after receiving more than 150 stitches. "I was playing on my phone and walking ahead. And someone — probably from behind — just shoved me against the wall, and cursed, and you know, I kind of fall to the ground."

The man sliced him up and down his face and neck. When he was done, the attacker did not even run, Mr. Smith said. He just walked away.

Francis Salud, 28, was arrested last week and charged in the attack.

Mr Salud had been arrested in a knife attack in October, the police said, when he cut another man after an argument over a cigarette in the garden area at the back of Bellevue Hospital Centre in Manhattan.

Mr Smith's shock at being set upon was matched only by his feeling of helplessness. Other recent victims echoed that sentiment.

Amanda Morris, 24, was cut by a stranger this month as she went to her job at Whole Foods in Chelsea. She posted photographs of her injuries on Facebook.

"Today was a difficult day that I never thought I would have to go through," Ms. Morris wrote. "I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and put in an unfortunate situation, but I would like to do what I can now to raise awareness."

After the attack, Ms Morris tried to think about what she could have done differently.

"I want everyone to know that I did have a bad feeling about this man as soon as I saw him," she wrote. "His walk was irregular and he appeared under the influence by his body language and stance. Always, always trust your gut instincts. Even in a safer neighbourhood such as Chelsea you should always stay alert and aware of your surroundings."

Across the city, people said they were aware of the reports of slashings and responded with a mix of resignation and wariness.

Lynn Marrapodi, 70, an artist, entered the Astor Place subway station in the East Village on Wednesday morning and stood with her back against the wall. It was a strategic manoeuvre.

"I have everything right in front of me, and I never did that before," Ms Marrapodi said, "but after the last two incidents, I have been more cautious than ever. If they haven't hit this station yet, they will. I see people standing on the edge of the platform like I used to, looking at their phones. I think they're crazy."

New York Times

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