In the last three months, there have been at least three robberies on BART involving groups of teenagers.
“I think people are genuinely concerned – they are fearful about the stories that have come out about the recent attacks, the assaults, the thefts,” said Debora Allen, who is a member of the BART Board of Directors.
April 22: Forty to sixty kids boarded a train at the Coliseum stop and robbed seven passengers, beating up two;
June 28: A group of four kids assaulted a passenger and made off with a cell phone at Dublin; and
June 30: A woman on a train with about a dozen teenagers had her phone snatched by one them before the group got off at the Coliseum stop. Thankfully, a good Samaritan was on hand to retrieve the phone.
So far, BART has refused to turn over surveillance video for any of these incidents.
Allen told us the agency issued an explanation for why it is being tight-lipped about the thefts.
“To release these videos would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district,” she was told. “And in addition it would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains.”
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.”
Allen says scared passengers aren’t being unreasonable — being on a BART train is a vulnerable position.
“This is BART, people are sort of trapped in this train for awhile and they have a right to see what could potentially happen.”
She says all this raises questions, “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?”
According to BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby, state law protecting “juvenile police records” prevents them from showing the surveillance video, even though at least one of the people arrested for the April 22 attack is 19 years old. (He cited Cal. Gov’t Code 827.9) And, even if the faces of juveniles were blurred, Huckaby says watching the videos would be pointless gawking.
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