Complaint Filed Over Red Line Incident That Went Viral

An advocacy group is alleging racial bias.

red line

Photo by Meredith Foley

A month after a Facebook post about a run-in on the Red Line with the MBTA Transit Police went viral, an advocacy group has filed a complaint.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice is pursuing the claim, arguing that police officers who intervened on that now-infamous train ride racially profiled a 16-year-old boy.

The action follows a post shared widely on social media, in which a white woman from Cambridge, 23-year-old Jamie Davenport, describes witnessing the police action on Wednesday, July 20. A group of young black people were being noisy and disruptive during the commute, she wrote. And when police came to make them leave, the officers assumed that the 16-year-old, who is also black, was with them. That is, until she stepped in to vouch for him.

Why should police believe me, she thought, instead of taking his word for it? Why should young people of color have to worry about what will happen to them when they have brushes with law enforcement? It was a long, emotional endorsement of the Black Lives Movement and a reflection on white privilege that resonated online. It’s since been shared almost 100,000 times.

“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,” Davenport told Boston in an interview at the time.

She also said police were calm and reserved during the whole encounter, but, when asked, said she thought racial sensitivity training might be necessary.

Police and the MBTA, for their part, have said officials reviewed video footage and conducted interviews, and have cleared the officers in this case of wrongdoing. Once it was determined that the boy wasn’t with the noisy group, the teen was allowed back on the train and continued about his business,” MBTA Supt. Richard Sullivan wrote in a statement in July. Even the noisy teenagers just rode home on another Red Line train, accompanied by TPD.

The department has met with the boy and his mother, according to MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo, who said the meeting “went very well.” The T has also been sending media outlets an image the boy’s mother took of the 16-year-old and Supt. Sullivan posing together, smiling.

But nonetheless, the advocacy group is asking in its complaint for the T to conduct bias training. It also seeks compensation for the boy’s family and funds for legal fees, according to the Boston Globe, which first reported on the complaint.

The group that filed it is “certainly concerned by the very visible instance of racial profiling and discrimination within a major public institution. We continue to be concerned about the likelihood of similar conduct arising in the MBTA,” Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, its executive director, tells the Globe.