Friday, March 7, 2014

Green activist Erik Baard stops subway assault

Today's post is a shout out to longtime Queens sustainability activist Erik Baard.  A few weeks back he peacefully stopped an assault in progress on the NYC subway.

Since he's very modest and not given to self-promotion, I feel a need to share his story.  A serial entrepreneur of volunteer programs, Erik founded the LIC Community Boathouse and what became the City of Water Day, an annual harbor festival, is a co-founder of Green Shores NYC, and was named the 2011 “Greenest New Yorker,” for NY State's I LOVE NY campaign. Erik's new project is HarborLAB.  

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Erik comes by this aquatic orientation naturally, as his family has worked on the NYC harbor for a century.  Among his relatives were and are tugboat captains, marine contractors, a barge superintendent, and an aquaculture educator.  On land Erik founded and operates a citywide program to plant hundreds of heirloom apple trees, indigenous fruits, and other edibles in public spaces. He’s coordinated large volunteer programs and corporate outings for Earth Day New York. He was environmental program manager for Citizens Committee for NYC. And so on.  Oh, he's also a professional writer whose work has appeared in New Yorker, NY Times, Economist, Popular Science, Wired online, National Public Radio, WNET, Village Voice, Times of London, SEED, Wall Street Journal and other media, but most people who know him aren't aware of that.  

His latest accomplishment was unplanned, spontaneous, and I'm sure it surprised him as much as anyone.  Erik was on the subway one day, and witnessed an assault in progress by some crazy guy, and intervened peacefully to stop it.  Kudos to Erik!  This letter describes what happened. 

Dear City Council Member Van Bramer,

We share a friend in Erik Baard, a revulsion toward hate crimes, and admiration for those who intervene to protect the vulnerable.

New York City is fast approaching the 50th anniversary, on March 13, of the Kitty Genovese murder that, rightly or wrongly, forever made Queens the prime example of "bystander effect" urban callousness. We are also approaching the 30th anniversary of Queens native Bernhard Goetz's "Subway Vigilante" 1984 shooting of four young black men with an illegal firearm, an incident that trumpeted New York City's lawless desperation and stoked racial tension. 

But in 2014, something very different happened aboard the 7 train in Queens. Erik Baard set the tone for the kind of borough and city we want to be. Your office should recognize his actions with honors.

Erik, our mutual friend, stopped a violent hate attack by an apparently armed assailant by putting himself in harms way and using no violence. Please contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force to confirm what follows: When an Hispanic passenger was attacked with punches to the face, Erik bodily intervened, placing himself between the attacker and victim. Without striking him, Erik moved forward to force the attacker back. At this point, the attacker began raging against Mexicans and immigrants. When the attacker reached for an object in his waistband, Erik remained in place as a shield for the victim while others scattered and reported a weapon to 911. Erik calmly talked the attacker down from committing further violence and kept control of the situation until the attacker left the train. Erik then sought to comfort the stunned victim, whose face was bruised and bloodied, until the victim got off in Woodside. Erik provided his contact information to a 911 caller who's a LaGuardia Community College student. Erik's aided the NYPD investigation since. 

As one eyewitness commented on the LIC Post article about the incident, "Suspect is considered very dangerous and mentally disturbed. He needs help for whatever problem he is dealing with. At the time of the incident he was yelling slurs and seemed very on edge. Luckily, a man stopped him from attacking the Hispanic man and saved the rest of the people on the train. Everyone thought he had a gun as well. I went home and hugged my children. In NYC trouble finds you."

Erik provided more details in interviews with NY1, TimesLedger, and especially Gothamist.

We all know the names Kitty Genovese and Bernhard Goetz decades later because of different forms of cowardice. Shouldn't we also know the name of a New Yorker, a native of Queens, who had the courage to stop a hate crime even when faced with the threat of a gun? The absence of bloodshed -- Erik's success -- shouldn't result in immediate obscurity.

You know Erik for his tireless community service in founding the LIC Community Boathouse, HarborLAB, Gotham Orchards, and what became City of Water Day, and co-founding Green Shores NYC, NYC Water Trail Association, and other public works, like volunteering for Hour Children's food pantry and mentoring programs. For these the state designated him the "Greenest New Yorker." And of course all three of us annually march for tolerance and inclusion in the St. Pat's for All Parade, organized by my fellow co-op member Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy. But for this very personal, reflexive act of selflessness and courage against hate, your office should honor Erik or encourage the Borough President or Mayor to do so. Especially in this 2014 anniversary year.

Thank you for your consideration.


Caroline Walker 

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