San Francisco Transit Withholds Surveillance Tapes To Avoid Creating Racial ‘Stereotypes’

[REUTERS/Robert Galbraith]

Ian Miles Cheong Contributor
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The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco and Oakland has been withholding video evidence of crimes committed on trains and at stations perpetrated by groups of teenagers, it has been revealed.

According to CBS Local, dozens of teenagers committed large-scale acts of robbery and assaults in the months of April and June. In April, “forty to sixty” teenagers boarded a train at Coliseum stop, where they proceeded to rob seven passengers and beat up two. In June, four teens assaulted a passenger and stole his cellphone. Just two days later, about a dozen teens snatched the phone of a woman on a train.

In each of these cases, BART has refused to publish surveillance footage, citing fears that the videos could create negative racial perceptions.

A member of the BART Board of Directors, Debora Allen, came forward with the information and told CBS Local that the organization believed the videos “would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district,” that would additionally “create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains.”

It is understood that the teenagers involved in all three incidents were racial minorities.

An internal memo acquired by CBS Local, BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill stated that the organization had no intention of releasing a press release on the June 30 theft because it was a “petty crime” that would make the transit system appear “crime ridden” to the public and “unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.”

It is common for BART to issue press releases on crimes and events that happen aboard its trains and at its transit stations.

Allen quizzed Hamill on the memo as to what role skin color had in the decision to withhold the surveillance videos. Hamill responded that if BART were to release news media with videos of crimes that involve minority suspects, “we would certainly face questions as to why we were sensationalizing relatively minor crimes and perpetuating false stereotypes in the process.”

Allen says that passengers have a right to know the dangers of riding the BART, and that the fears they have are not unreasonable.

Responding to press inquiries, BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby told CBS Local that state law protecting “juvenile police records” prevents them from releasing surveillance video, even if some of the assailants are legally adults. That said, the reasoning comes off as an excuse concocted to justify withholding the video evidence, given the contents of the memo.

“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 said to CBS Local. She points out that BART’s priority should be ensuring the safety of its passengers instead of worrying about racial bias.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter.