California’s public transport system, the Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART in the San Francisco Bay area refuse to release surveillance camera videos of crime incidents, in order not to “create a racial bias”.
The BART announced last week that it would no longer be issuing press statements about criminal incidents on the public transport system, Russia Today reported.
“Furthermore, disproportionate elevation of crimes on transit interfaces with local media in such a way to unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports and a high level of racially insensitive commentary directed toward the District through our social media channels, email, and call centers,” assistant general manager Kerry Hamill said in a statement.
Debora Allen, member of the BART board of directors, wanted to know why race suddenly mattered, according to an email exchange published by San Francisco’s KPIX-TV.
BART has now openly admitted that they base that policy 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.”
Hamill responded that after “about a dozen teenagers,” stole a passengers cellphone, the incident prompted a voicemail that “used racist and incendiary language” and many social media posts “used patently offensive language that often involved racial slurs,” Hamill said. She added: “No news articles ever referenced the race of the offenders yet some members of the public leapt to their own conclusions.”
Two days prior to that incident, on June 28, a group of four African-American teens attacked a passenger and stole a cell phone at Dublin station. Another major incident happened at the Coliseum stop on April 22, when some 40-60 teenagers boarded the train, robbed seven passengers, and beat up two.
BART has refused to release the surveillance footage from the three incidents. “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,” Hamill wrote.
Even if the faces of attackers or juveniles were blurred, BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby told KPIX, watching the videos would be “pointless gawking”.
BART maintains that California’s law protecting “juvenile police records” prevents the them from showing the surveillance video. One of the people arrested for the April 22 attack was 19, the KPIX noted.
According to Hamill “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.” The public can be fully informed about crimes that happen on BART “without being shown images that will inflame some members of the public and paint the transit agency in a poor and ultimately misleading light,” she said.
But board member Deborah Allen was not convinced: “I think people are genuinely concerned ‒ they are fearful about the stories that have come out about the recent attacks, the assaults, the thefts,” Allen told KPIX. “What is the priority of BART? Is the safety of the passenger ‒ of all passengers ‒ is that a lesser priority than the race bias issue?”
In the days following the attacks, there were over 118 assaults and 33 robberies in the area immediately surrounding the Coliseum station, not including the incidents on the system. “All of these incidents were ignored by local media,” Hamill said, adding, “They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear.”
But in March a man randomly and repeatedly kicked a 73-year-old woman in the back of her head until she lost consciousness on a BART train in the morning, according to the transit agency.
Hamill said because of the 2009 death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old African-American shot by a BART police officer who was responding to a brawl that broke out at Fruitvale station on New Year’s Day, any surveillance footage should be barred.