Russ Buettner and J. David Goodman, New York Times, September 11, 2013
Throughout his adult life, Martin Redrick bounced from one conflict to the next, frequently showing the potential for violence. He abused drugs, threw bottles and punches at the police and others, struggled with mental illness and was frequently agitated by white people. (Mr. Redrick is black.)
“Martin did not like authority and as we were growing up, the only people with authority were white people,” said a brother, Joseph Redrick, 47. “A lot of times that problem with authority was transferred to white people.”
Last Wednesday afternoon, that trait manifested itself again, according to the police. After finishing a chess game in Union Square Park, Mr. Redrick grew angry at white commuters bumping into him as they left the busy subway station and declared he was going to punch one.
That person was Jeffrey Babbitt, a comic-book enthusiast from Brooklyn whom friends described as mild-mannered and who was leaving the station. Mr. Redrick, 40, punched Mr. Babbitt, 62, in the face, sending him to the ground and causing an injury that led to his death on Monday, the authorities said.
The assault charges against Mr. Redrick had not yet been upgraded to a more serious charge on Tuesday, but new details emerged about his troubled background, one that may have foreshadowed violence, but never apparently rose to the level that might have required lengthy imprisonment or hospitalization.
Scarlett Thomas, who was married to Joseph Redrick until 2009, said she and Joseph adopted Martin Redrick’s son when the father was in and out of jail. And though Martin Redrick sometimes displayed anger toward white people, both Joseph Redrick and Ms. Thomas , who is white, said he was always kind to Ms. Thomas’s daughter from a previous marriage. “He called her ‘My precious little Snow White,’ ” she said.
But there had long been worries within the family about Mr. Redrick’s behavior, which had worsened with drug use, she said.
“In the ’90s, he smoked something called wet — marijuana soaked in formaldehyde,” she said in a telephone interview from Dallas, where she now lives. “Everybody who knew him knew he was unpredictable and was going to snap one day.”
After being charged with shoplifting in 2004, he spent time in the Middletown Psychiatric Center, according to Orange County correction officials. Ms. Thomas said Mr. Redrick had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia in 2007 and later cut off contact with his family. She said that early this year she learned he was living in New York City and spoke with him on the phone.
“He didn’t realize he had been missing for three years,” she said. “He thought he had just talked to us last week.”
He was most recently arrested on Aug. 13, for trying to strike a woman in Harlem and then spitting in her face, the police said. He was recently living in supported housing, a type of residence where people with mental illness can receive special services but are typically free to come and go.
Michael Benson, 54, said Mr. Redrick occasionally hinted at a violent past. “I ever tell you the time I knocked this guy out?” Mr. Benson recalled Mr. Redrick telling him.
On Wednesday, the two played several games and Mr. Redrick lost all of them, but did not seem angry about the losses, Mr. Benson said. Mr. Redrick stood up, walked over to the steps next to the busy subway entrance, and smoked a cigarette. Mr. Benson said he heard Mr. Redrick yell that he was tired of white commuters bumping into him and not saying “excuse me.”
“The next white person who runs into me, I’m going to knock them out,” Mr. Redrick said, according to Mr. Benson.
“And that’s what he did,” Mr. Benson said.