- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Subway riders and their advocates told a D.C. Council hearing Tuesday that more accountability, oversight and engagement would help improve the Metro Transit Police Department’s relationship within communities.

Council member Robert White, at-large Democrat, took that message to heart.

“There is a deficit of trust between communities of color and law enforcement that have its roots well before the existence of [Metro],” Mr. White said during a joint roundtable hearing of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and the Facilities and Procurement Committee, which he chairs.

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“While Metro Transit Police did not cause this trust deficit, it absolutely impacts their work and there is no way to resolve this by ignoring it, and I am sick and tired of seeing videos of police interactions with people of color that are aggressive meaning and sometimes deadly,” he said.

Over the past couple of years, Metro Transit Police have come under fire for using excessive force with minors and people of color for having food on subway platforms and for evading fares, which the council decriminalized last year.

This summer, transit police repeatedly used a Taser on Tapiwa Musonza, who was unarmed, at the U Street Metro Station after he intervened in a police interaction with two 13-year-old boys who transit officers had handcuffed in the station. According to published stories, police said they had received reports of youths threatening people wit sticks on the platform. They released the boys after officers could not find any alleged victims.

A report by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee found that between 2016 and 2018, 91% of fare evasion summonses were issued to black people and 46% were issued to black youth, with the youngest recipient being 7 years old.

“These interactions have been serious and have raised understandable concerns about Metro Transit Police officer training and the policies on the use of force, strategies for de-escalation and policies on interacting with children,” Mr. White said.

Some of those who testified Tuesday said that transit police lack adequate oversight and an effective means to report complaints because Metro serves a region governed by different and sometimes competing jurisdictions.

To mitigate this, many suggested establishing a civilian complaint oversight board, allowing public access to data, improving training and policies, encouraging community participation in training and working with Maryland and Virginia to create an oversight entity.

“You cannot police effectively if you cannot engage the community and folks are unwilling to cooperate with you,” said Emily Gunston of the Washington Lawyers Committee.

Che’mere Jones, who witnessed the U Street Metro incident, suggested therapy or a social work session for other witnesses of the Taser incident or any other altercation so that the officers can understand the emotions involved in the conflict and help witnesses heal.

Melissa Laws, whose son was one of the boys who was handcuffed, said that her son had trouble sleeping and now doesn’t like to be touched and that his friend suffers emotional trauma from what happened. She added that she does not know why her son was targeted by police.

“An apology goes a long way, but an apology without changed behavior is toxic and just words, so when we speak about engagement it needs to be more than just that initial phase,” Ms. Jones said.

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