WASHINGTON — The D.C. City Council voted 11 to 2 to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of their bill to decriminalize fare evasion on the metro on Tuesday, prompting the District to join the likes of California, Seattle, Portland and New York where such measures have already been enacted.
“With today’s vote, the Council sent a clear message that it is committed to progressive criminal justice reform that dismantles the systemic racial and economic injustice that has only harmed our communities,” said Nassim Moshiree, Policy Director of the ACLU of the District of Columbia. “We once again extend our deepest gratitude to Councilmember Charles Allen for shepherding this bill in the council, to Councilmember Trayon White for introducing it and to all of the Councilmembers who stood firm in their vote.” (RELATED: DC Mayor Vetoes Metro Fare Evasion Decriminalization)
Trayon White made headlines earlier this year when he accused Jews of controlling the weather. The ACLU-DC did not comment on White’s remarks then and today said they “don’t see what those remarks have to do with the fare evasion decriminalization bill.” (RELATED: Democratic Lawmaker Who Said Jews Control Weather Visits Holocaust Museum)
Proponents of the decriminalization bill, including White, cited a disproportionate effect of such laws on people of color.“I’ve seen with my own eyes and read stories,” said White at a previous meeting of the D.C. City Council. “91 percent of citations given were issued to black people.” (RELATED: D.C. Moves To Decriminalize Metro Fare Evasion)
Councilmember Brianne Nadeau also supported the legislation, tweeting, “The more we commit to using the lens of race equity in all we do in government, the sooner we will be able to rectify the real crime here, which is perpetuating racist government systems in our own government.” She and other supporters of the bill used the hashtag #ItsNotFare to show their support.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) that manages the metro system opposes the bill, saying it would cost them millions and leave Metro Transit Police unable to mitigate other types of crime on the subway system.
ATU Local 689, the union that represents transit workers, also opposes the legislation.
“Our union’s membership is made up of more than 80 percent people of color,” they said in a statement. “We are mindful of the disproportionate effect of fare evasion citations, but we do not believe that inviting theft is a reasonable way to resolve this issue. The Council’s bill, as written, encourages more evasion that leads to assaults on bus operators and station managers, and creates greater tension between paying riders and fare evaders.”
The only two people on the City Council to vote no on the bill were Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Jack Evans, who also serves as Chair of Metro’s Board of Directors and was recently the subject of an investigation regarding stock he took from a friend’s company. (RELATED: DC Democrat Took Stock From Friend’s Company, Pushed Legislation To Directly Benefit It)
“When you don’t pay your fare at Metro, you’re stealing,” Evans said. “That’s what you’re doing. It’s just like stealing something from a grocery store. You’re stealing money. So what we are doing is decriminalizing stealing.”
The bill, which also decriminalizes smoking, eating, spitting, littering and playing music without headphones, passed the Council by a 10-2 vote on Dec. 4 last year but Bowser vetoed it on January 16.
As with any D.C. bill, it will have to go through Congress before becoming law.