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Seniors feel terrified on Metro, facing dangers with no staff in sight

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On April 22, a man suddenly stabbed a woman in the neck with a knife on the subway at the Universal/Studio City station on the B line. This is not the only incident. A spate of violent crimes on public transportation in the Los Angeles area prompted the Metro Board of Directors to declare a “public safety emergency” on April 25.

Even with all this danger, Korean seniors who are unable to drive are forced to use public transportation to get to Korean markets, doctors’ appointments, and church.
They know the dangers of the Metro better than anyone.

On April 26, the Korea Daily rode the subway with Clara Lee (78), a frequent rider, and Yoonja Kim (81), who is almost new to public transportation. The subway was like a place with no laws.

A man with tattoos all over his body is sitting in the front. This man dragged his bicycle into the subway and then threw it on the floor. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]
Clara Lee (right) and Yoonja Kim boarded at Pershing Square subway station and headed to Koreatown. A man sitting behind them was fiddling with a pointed tool, so Lee and Kim moved their seats. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

At 1:20 p.m. on April 26, in front of Angelus Plaza senior apartments — the largest neighborhood for Korean-American seniors in Los Angeles — Yoonja Kim and Clara Lee usually take the subway from downtown’s Pershing Square Station.

It’s a five-minute walk from their apartment to Pershing Square Station. On the way, Lee suddenly asked me to go to the “Angels Flight” entrance, which has a trolley that often appears in movies. “It’s cleaner and there are fewer homeless people here than at the other entrance to the station,” she said. Even before entering the subway station, Lee was looking for a safe way to get around.

Our next stop was Weston Station. We were headed to the Korean market. To get to the hospital, Lee takes the D Line subway and gets off at Normandy Station.

“It’s cleaner than I thought it would be,” said Kim, who was new to the subway. Consequently, Lee nodded her head. “When it’s cold and rainy, homeless people come into the station to eat and sleep, so there’s a lot of trash,” Lee said, adding, “It’s cleaner than it used to be.” As we headed underground, the odor became more nauseating.

As we entered the station, there was not a single Metro employee in sight. We questioned whether the city of LA had declared a state of emergency. We looked at the ceiling. There were only four security cameras. “The D line ends at Weston Station in Koreatown, but there are no Metro staff there either, and there was no one cleaning up the trash on the subway,” Lee said.

In broad daylight, there were only about a dozen people on the platform, even though it’s in the center of downtown. There was silence. If someone suddenly acted strangely or threatened anyone, it was unlikely that the staff would be able to react properly. At that moment, a shirtless man appeared holding a small glass pipe. Seeing him, the faces of the two female seniors, who had been smiling, turned emotionless.

Lee and Kim boarded a different subway car than the one in front where they were standing. “When the subway enters the platform, I look at the people in the car,” Lee said. “I get in the subway that doesn’t look like there are a lot of strange people.”

As Lee said, the subway seems to be all about the first ride. Unlike in Korea, where subway cars are connected, each car in the LA Metro subway is separate. If something happens in a subway cabin, you can’t switch it.

The two seniors chatted as they sat down. However, their conversation didn’t last long. At the next stop, 7th Avenue/Metro Center, a tall, well-built, tattoo-covered man boarded the subway behind them. He kept muttering to himself. He also had a screwdriver in his hand. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary for him to suddenly attack someone. His arrival left the two seniors speechless and their faces darkened.

A man who seems to be under the influence of drugs sat on a subway chair and injected drugs into his body. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]

The subway is a lawless place. There are also people who inject drugs. The man injected something into his chest pocket. In his hand, he had a lighter and a rolled-up silver foil.

“I try not to make eye contact with people who look strange, and I always carry a whistle on my keychain,” Lee said, adding, “The chairs are often dirty and stinky, so I don’t sit on them very often.”

When asked about her most dangerous encounter, Lee said, “In September last year, there were only three of us in a train car, me, one man, and one woman. Suddenly the man jumped up with a kitchen knife in his hand.” “He came at me, but luckily he passed me and went to the end of the train cabin. Me and the other woman got off at the next station,” Lee said.

For Lee, Kim, and other Korean-American seniors, the subway is an essential way to move around in Los Angeles. Taxis are available, but they are much more expensive than the subway and buses. So, they use the LA Metro subway and buses, even though they know it’s dangerous. They take the risk and still ride LA Metro buses and subways today.

A dairy spilled by a man dozing off soaked his pants and the bottom of his chair. [Sangjin Kim, The Korea Daily]
BY KYEONGJUN KIM, JUNHAN PARK    [kim.kyeongjun1@koreadaily.com]