Over the last few months, several attacks by large groups have targeted riders on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains, resulting in robberies and injuries. The first of these took place in April and involved as many as sixty youth and seven victims, two of whom were beaten. The two most recent came at the end of June, including an armed robbery with a knife and another incident with a dozen perpetrators robbing a woman.
BART riders have begun to fear for their safety, and want video released to see who are committing these robberies. BART won’t release the video, however, and BART board member Deborah Allen tells CBS that it’s because they are afraid that the videos will “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color”:
According to a memo distributed to BART Directors, the agency won’t do a press release on the June 30 theft because it was a “petty crime” that would make BART look “crime ridden.” Furthermore, it would “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.”
The memo was from BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill.
Allen emailed Hamill, “I don’t understand what role the color of one’s skin plays in this issue [of whether to divulge information]. Can you explain?” Hamill responded, “If we were to regularly feed the news media video of crimes on our system that involve minority suspects, particularly when they are minors, we would certainly face questions as to why we were sensationalizing relatively minor crimes and perpetuating false stereotypes in the process.” And added her opinion of the media: “My view is that the media’s real interest in the videos of youth phone snatching incidents isn’t the desire for transparency but rather the pursuit of ratings. They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear.”
The CBS affiliate published the two e-mails in their entirety at the link. The explanation here is nonsensical in more ways than can be addressed in a single post, but a couple of points stand out.
First, the responsibility for transparency lies with BART, not local TV stations. To say that TV stations want ratings is as silly as saying politicians want votes. So what? That has nothing to do with BART’s responsibility to its riders, especially when it comes to their security.
And second, since when is armed robbery a “petty crime”? Under California penal code 211, robbery consists of “the felonious taking of personal property in the possession of another, from his person or immediate presence, and against his will, accomplished by means of force or fear.” In all of these cases, force and fear were employed to rob victims of their property, and at least one case involved a deadly weapon. That includes the June 30th incident, in which a dozen suspects robbed a woman of her phone. In California, all robberies are felonies, not “petty crimes.”
Hamill answered Allen’s e-mail query by questioning the value of public release of surveillance video, especially in light of the response it received after the Oscar Grant killing:
People can be fully informed about crimes that occur on our system without being shown images that will inflame some members of the public and paint the transit agency in a poor and ultimately misleading light.
That’s actually a better argument. Do video releases to the public actually help solve crimes? Sometimes, but perhaps they may also be prejudicial in the legal sense, which is one concern that BART raises. However, Hamill undermines this argument by claiming that these gang robberies are “petty” in nature. No they are not; in fact, they are very dangerous, especially when left unchecked and the gangs feel they can act with impunity. That smacks of a public official trying very hard to minimize a real problem to cover her department’s rear end, which is about as opposite of “transparency” as one can get. Hamill emphasizes more than once in this exchange her concern about creating a perception that BART is “crime-ridden,” and so would prefer not to inform riders of the nature of actual crimes to prevent it.
Our RedState colleague Kira Davis is furious about BART’s implied message:
Just to recap – innocent, paying BART riders are being beaten and robbed but authorities don’t want to properly inform the public so they can be alert because that might make more racism. Allen says it would “create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains”.
Not the actual criminals. They’re not the ones creating a “racial bias” by beating and robbing people. No. It’s you dirty racists who would like to be informed of crime risks on the transportation you pay for dearly in one of the most expensive cities in the nation.
Just to be fair, Allen’s the one relaying the message, not agreeing with it. And she’s not the only one raising questions about the policy. KPIX followed up on the story and notes the pushback that’s begun among elected officials in the Bay area:
The problem with all of the legalese offered by BART in this instance is the admission that they admittedly base that policy in part on the ethnicity of the perpetrators. “So if it were a video showing white teenagers robbing someone,” the KPIX anchor asked Allen, “we would have the video by now?” Allen responded, “That might be a good question.” The better policy would be full transparency, and let San Francisco residents make up their own minds. If the progressives in the Bay area can’t be trusted to act without bigotry, perhaps the risk of that has been misplaced all along.