MBTA Investigates Police Encounter After Facebook Post Goes Viral
Update, July 22, 6:32 p.m.: After a Red Line bystander’s heartfelt open letter about a police encounter was shared widely on Facebook this week, the T’s police department has issued a statement about the incident.
“My preliminary findings suggest our officers conducted themselves with a calm and professional demeanor,” MBTA Transit Police Supt. Richard Sullivan writes in an email. “We take great pride in the men and women of the Transit Police Department. The cornerstone of our philosophy is Community Policing in the truest, purest sense of the word. Our officers are trained to diffuse situations not exacerbate them.”
The MBTA said earlier Friday the incident was “under investigation.”
In the post, 23-year-old Jamie Davenport of Cambridge writes that she was taking the T Wednesday night when police ordered a group of black teenagers to step off the train for being noisy and arguing with an MBTA employee.
Another young boy, who was also black but didn’t know the other teenagers on the train, was also ordered to leave the train (and travel instead on another train car). However, Davenport, who is white, stepped in to defend him. She writes:
The police release the boy and he sits down across from me again. We share a moment of blankness and then tears well in both of our eyes. He waves me over to the seat next to him. He says,
“That was because I am black. Wasn’t it?”
I nod. He looks down sheepishly at his shirt and says quietly,
“I’m just happy they didn’t hurt me. That would kill my mom. And she is not someone you want to mess with.”
I say the only thing I can think,
“I’m so sorry.”
“With all that’s going on in the world I am so scared all the time.”
In the post—which by Friday night had been shared nearly 50,000 times and garnered nearly 3,000 comments—she says the incident gave her a new perspective on the experiences of youth of color, and gives an impassioned endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The train rattles into my station and I shake his hand. He says,
“Don’t mention it.”
I exit the train and watch it pull away. And then I weep. I weep in a way I never have before. My breath shortens and I begin to crumble.
I weep for Trayvon Martin.
I weep for Mike Brown.
I weep for Sandra Bland.
I weep for Alton Sterling.
I weep for Eric Garner.
I weep for all of the names I do not know but should.
I weep for their families.
I weep for their friends.
I weep for the innocent blood shed all over this country.
I weep for that boy.
I weep that I cannot remember his name because it is not as familiar to me as James or Tim or Dave.
I weep for those kids.
I weep for all of those kids.
I spend the night replaying the whole scenario over and over again in my head. And realize that three words keep running through my mind. Three words that until I heard a 12-year-old black girl say aloud to her friends as they awaited the police I did not understand. Three words that are so little but mean so much.
Black Lives Matter.
In an interview, Davenport says the officers who responded—one of whom was white and the other Asian-American—were not rough with the young passengers.
“The police and every authority involved were all acting politely and calmly. That’s not what the issue was,” she says. “It was just really clear what the tone of the whole scene was. It was really upsetting because as soon as they said the police were being called, the entire group of teenagers were so scared.”
She estimates her train was stopped for around half an hour while the situation unfolded.
Davenport says she’s a bit overwhelmed by all the attention her post is getting, and isn’t sure what she would like to see happen as a result—more racial sensitivity training, maybe.
But she wants more people to take time to reflect on what communities of color have been saying about relations with police.
“I have never, as a white person, experienced that deep fear. The police, to me, have always been someone I can look to to take care of me, and that’s not always the case for everyone in this country,” she says. “I think that people just need to listen.”
[h/t Universal Hub]
The full statement from Supt. Sullivan:
Upon learning of an incident regarding an interaction between Transit Police officers and a group of young people that was posted and widely distributed on social media we took immediate steps to ascertain what transpired. Thus far I have reviewed public safety cameras, audio tapes and spoke with MBTA employees as well as the MBTA passenger who raised the matter. My preliminary findings suggest our officers conducted themselves with a calm and professional demeanor. We take great pride in the men and women of the Transit Police Department. The cornerstone of our philosophy is Community Policing in the truest, purest sense of the word. Our officers are trained to diffuse situations not exacerbate them.
Again, my preliminary findings suggest TPD officers requested a disorderly group of young people exit from the train with the understanding and explicit directions they would be allowed to board the next southbound train. The group of young people agreed to this solution/outcome and disembarked without further incident. There was another young male, who was seated in close proximity to the group, who was also asked to exit the train. Once off of the train, this male explained he was NOT with and/or associated with the group. This was confirmed by the larger group as well as an independent passenger. At this point the young male was allowed back on the train and continued about his business.
TPD has also reached out to the young male and his mother. We are continuing to look into this matter and are committed to serving our riding public with the utmost dignity and respect.