The Morgan L subway station can feel unsettling on a cold night. There are only two exits at the far ends of a long platform and when exiting the station, the view of the street is obstructed by a parked construction crane that’s surrounded by neon orange barriers and fencing. To the left, a dimly lit intersection. To the right, a sidewalk so enclosed by scaffolding it creates an isolated corridor with no way to escape.
The volunteer group SafeWalks is trying to make the station a little less daunting. The group, which operates primarily from its Instagram account, posts volunteers at the subway stations and hopes their presence will act as a deterrent to any danger.
SafeWalks was founded by Bushwick local Peter Kerre following news the station was in the midst of a plague of attacks on women since last November. He immediately decided to start standing outside the Morgan L station himself and posted on Instagram, notifying followers that he also was available to walk them safely home.
Kerre is the leader of a network of activist cyclists called Street Riders NYC, which was formed last May to support Black Lives Matter protesters in the city. When Kerre had explained his mission to his followers and announced the creation of SafeWalks, the call to action was not unheard.
“I was at my apartment a few blocks away when I saw photos of [a] woman who was attacked. I was angry,” Kerre told Bushwick Daily. “Who am I to be sitting here on the couch when I could be out there? Why should someone else take a punch when I can take it for them?”
Since Kerre’s first Instagram post on January 4th, Safewalks has received at least 40 requests. Anyone wanting accompaniment home can DM the SafeWalks instagram @safewalksnyc within one hour of their desired meeting and they can also request a female volunteer or request to be dropped off out of sight of their home. The goal is to make residents feel comfortable and secure in their environment.
The social media site has proved useful in other ways: a video of a 27 year old woman getting attacked in Bushwick’s Sunflower Glass Company smoke shop was re-posted by prominent Black Lives Matter activist Hawk Newsome and this helped lead to the arrest of an alleged attacker. Khari Covington, a homeless 29 year old man, was arrested on January 6th and charged with eight counts of assault as a hate crime and one count of robbery as a hate crime.
“We’re here for our community and ready to go into the fire, not to fight but to just show up for our neighbors,” says Kerre. “It’s about compassion.”
Over 200 residents from all five boroughs have volunteered to safely escort Bushwick residents home, with the recruits drawn mostly from other other community and cycling groups. They walk in pairs. Some say they are trained in martial arts and others simply have spare time. Many of the volunteers are women and know friends who have been attacked or have even been attacked themselves.
Kerre showed Bushwick Daily a message he received from a 28 year old man living in Newark, New Jersey. The man wants to set up his own chapter there. In the message, the man says that he has a wife and is always thinking of her safety. Kerre encourages everyone to take community safety into their own hands.
“SafeWalks isn’t a company but an initiative and every single person who is a neighbor can be a part of it and start their own SafeWalks group” says Kerre.
But SafeWalks is expanding digitally; an app is in the works that would allow for “rapid dispatch, tracking, requests, and geolocation alerts.” Trained professionals have reached out to teach virtual self-defense classes and Kerre hopes to create accessible resources to empower neighbors all around the world.
Top photo by Vanessa Hock.
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