- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

Please don't tell me the big bad folks at Metro messed up. Please don't tell me they had hundreds of potential law-breakers under one roof Monday at the mayor's youth summit and they never uttered a single word about their new get-tough policy on eating and drinking on Metro trains and buses.
Surely, you've heard about Metro's zero-tolerance stance on snacking, and you've certainly seen the signs that say no smoking, eating, drinking or playing of loud music with headphones?
And surely by now you know that a seventh-grader was handcuffed, hauled into a detention center, fingerprinted and charged with, well, violating the no-eating law?
No joke, folks. This is mega news. Bigger than the ratings drop for Regis Philbin's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Even bigger than the Washington Redskins' spanking of the St. Louis Rams on "Monday Night Football."
Maybe the comparison to the 'Skins is unfair. But as far as news goes Metro's arrest of the seventh-grader is really big. There were inquiries from "Good Morning America." The Washington Post thought the story warranted four reporters, and it was a topic on City Cable 16's "Reporters Roundtable."
Anyway, the offending youngster is 12 years old and a student at Deal Junior High in Northwest, up near the Tenleytown-American University station on the Red Line.
The station is one of the busiest in the city between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., drawing not only college crowds and working stiffs, but students from several nearby schools, including Georgetown Day and Sidwell Friends.
To stay on point, I'm not going to reveal the snacker's name.
What's most important here is Metro's incredible policy and misplaced priorities.
Let's give this outrageous escapade a moniker, shall we. Let's call it Snackgate. No. How about Snack Attack?.
Now according to the parties involved, the crime occurred Oct. 23, a Monday and the first day of Snack Attack, an undercover operation. An undercover transit police officer witnessed the snacker eating fries and approached the snacker. "Put your fries down," the officer said with authority. No word yet on whether the fries were logged as evidence.
Reaction was swift and pointed. The Post ran an editorial, "Operation French Fry," and published seven letters to the editor on Nov. 21.
Bill Piper of Washington is my kind of guy. "Handcuffing and arresting a 12-year-old girl for eating french fries in a Metro station is not sound public policy," he wrote.
Georgia M. Johnson of Bethesda said "teen-agers break rules on purpose." No argument from me on that, though I might just add that fully grown folks do, too.
Ione Salkoski of Washington said "I hope Metro does even more enforcement." (Argh!)
More my speed was this conclusion from Molly Pochciol of Dallas: "A warning would have been sufficient."
The snacker was one of several youths nabbed for breaking the no-eating law, and they all have been duly sentenced: community service and counseling; each also faced the prospect of being suspended from school.
Adults caught in similar situations simply would have been cited and fined. That's right merely cited and fined, and free to grab a burger and shake to go with those fries on their next ride.
The Snack Attack was Metro's week-long undercover crackdown on unlawful eating and drinking on Metro, and conducted by about a dozen plainclothes officers, who nabbed about 50 offenders, most of them adults. Thirteen were juveniles.
Now for what it's worth Metro has been caught red-handed breaking federal contracting regulations, forcing passengers to pack like sardines on trains during rush-hour, surprising commuters who return to Metro parking lots only to find their cars have been stolen. No word yet on whether those car thieves left a trail of fries.
Allow me to close with a few words of advice for those big bad folks over at Metro, because the snacker has certainly learned an easy lesson the hard way.
The next time Metro transit police plan to go to such extremes to nab youths for such minor offenses, Metro's top cop, Barry J. McDevitt, just might want to try writing 1,000 times: "I will not do something so stupid again."
E-mail: simmon@twtmail.com

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