February 21, 2017
Ms. Yvette Rivera Associate Director
U.S. Department of Transportation
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
Ryan N. Fitzpatrick, Esq.
Lead Civil Rights Analyst
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
In Reply to Reference S-32 DOT #2017-0093
Subject: US DOT Letter of Title VI Complaint – Labor/Community Strategy Center
Dear Ms. Rivera and Mr. Fitzpatrick,
We want to report to you our assessment of our meeting with the MTA on January 24, 2017. As you know, you received a letter from Mr. Philip Washington on January 26, 2017 giving his version of events. While we very much appreciated the meeting, we have a markedly different assessment of the problem, the meeting, and the MTA response. In summary, while the meeting was cordial we do not believe the MTA has any grasp of the severity of its past civil rights transgressions, any plans to apologize and make amends for past civil rights violations against almost 100,000 Black bus and rail passengers, nor any effective plans to remedy the problem in the present or future.
As Mr. Washington writes in his letter,
“We explained to the LCSC representatives that our expectation in the past was that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASO) fare checkers enforced the law equally and did not engage in stop and frisk. If Metro were to have learned of such actions we would have put an immediate end to its implementation. The fare compliance staff now and in the past was directed to check all passengers at a given station, train or bus and no single race, gender or national origin would be targeted.”
We believe this is not consistent with the facts or even what MTA represented to us at the meeting.
First, it is statistically and morally impossible to “enforce the law equally” and yet end up giving 50% of all citations and 60% of arrests to Black passengers. In their efforts to what we believe as covering up the grotesque nature of this policy their explanation is not possibly true. Either if they want, they can argue certain racially discriminatory assertions about the character and behavior of 100,000 Black MTA passengers (19% of the estimated 500,000 passengers) or they must take responsibility for an astronomical degree of racial profiling and animus. We were very disturbed when Mr. Washington, in our view, reported the DOT complaint to the MTA in the most matter of fact manner, with no remorse or outrage, giving the impression that it was all under control. It is not. There must be some profound concern for past actions and a form of repair and apology to Black passengers even if not one more civil rights violation continued in the future—which it certainly is doing so now.
Secondly, Mr. Washington claims there was no “Stop and Frisk” on the MTA trains and buses. And yet, in explaining why he was moving to a “civilian” staff that does not have the capacity to inquire about other possible violations or issues on a person’s record he told us he did not want any possibility of a “Stop and Frisk” situation. So it cannot be that there was not a “Stop and Frisk” in the past but he is now moving to a civilian force to stop a problem he argues never existed.
I do believe the MTA’s failure to grasp the severity of the treatment of possibly over 700,000 riders just in the past seven years is in itself a civil rights violation and we leave it to you to figure out the appropriate remedy. Again, to have given citations that cost people $75 or more and to arrest so many people on the trains and buses and then assure us that first there was no problem and second, they have moved to correct it is insulting to all who care about civil rights. It is in our view, consistent with the behavior of the MTA since we first brought a civil rights suit against them in 1994 and filed an administrative complaint with the DOT in 2010.
“Metro discussed the transition to a civilian (not sworn) fare compliance program now in progress. Metro explained the advantages of the administrative Transit Court over the previous processing of citations for adults at the Superior Court and explained our plan to also include young offenders in the program. Metro provided a counter proposal in response to the four requests listed by the LSCS in their letter to Metro dated January 18, 2017 (attached). The first four elements of Metro’s proposal will ensure that fare compliance at Metro continues and honors the civil rights protections afforded to all Metro customers. Metro’s counter proposal contains these elements, several of which are underway:
- Transition fare compliance function away from sworn law enforcement officers (Sheriff Deputies) to civilian fare compliance staff (now underway, transition scheduled to be complete by April, 2017).
- Transfer the jurisdiction for young offender citations from the Superior Court to Metro’s non-criminal, administrative Transit Court with reduced penalties (Metro Board action to implement is scheduled for March 2017)
- Implement Implicit Bias Training for all fare compliance staff
- Implement a mystery shopper service for the fare compliance program to gather independent observations on the behavior of the fare compliance staff”
We expressed to MTA that we did think it was a step forward to take L.A. Sheriff’s staff out of the business of fare collection. But we still believed that the entire concept of a “Transit Court” continued the criminalization of MTA riders. We said that any form of ticketing that required people, Black people in particular, who had already paid 3 ½ cent sales taxes to the MTA, to lose time from work and family to go to a “court” for the very minor problem of allegedly not paying their transit fare continued the criminalization process.
In fact this week, the MTA Board of Directors will be voting on a new security contract that would contract Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD), Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and Long Beach Police (LBPD), a $546 million multi-year contract with these police agencies. While MTA claims that this new contract will bring efficiency and a more robust perception of safety for riders – it means riders will now have four to five security or law enforcement interactions (MTA Police, MTA fare checkers, LASD, LAPD, and LBPD). We believe this can only fuel additional interactions for riders especially under ominous MTA’s Transit Riders Code of Conduct that is attached to its Transit Court program whose premise is embedded in a pre-emptive and broken window policing framework and enforcement.
We proposed as an alternative first, free public transportation that could end all fare collection on the trains. Secondly, we proposed “fare collection” with no court system as the core of our alternative proposal. If passengers did not have proof of payment we proposed that MTA fare staff could sell tickets on the train itself and if necessary, ask passengers to get off at the next stop. Given the severity and enormity of the pain and suffering the MTA has imposed on its passengers for decades this would be the most humane thing to do.
The MTA letter, “As proposed by the LCSC, Metro will change the name of the program to “fare compliance” from “fare enforcement.”
We strongly disagree with this characterization of what we said and proposed. When the MTA continued to talk about “fare enforcement” through their traffic court and lowered fines we responded that this still continued to criminalize its own passengers which is why they call it “fare enforcement.” We said that the civil rights response to this problem would be free public transportation, or very low fares to start, and a process of “fare collection” and not “fare enforcement.” We did NOT say that the MTA should continue to criminalize its own passengers but simply change the name of the civil rights violations. We have to say this is pretty funny on its face and indicates a complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of the past, present, and future harms in MTA policy.
The MTA letter continues, “Conduct a review of the fare structure looking at the benefits or dis-benefits of a variety of options including those advanced by the LCSC (i.e. reduced pass prices, free fares etc.)”
We appreciate the MTA’s recognition of the policy changes we have proposed including free fares on the record. We both know there was no commitment to carry the out but we do want to press that this is critical to the solution to this long history of Title VI violations.
Continued MTA harassment and discrimination against the Labor/Community Strategy Center for our many decades of civil rights work in challenging agency policy
As you know from your letter to MTA you stated, “Please note that no recipient or other person shall intimidate, threaten, coerce, or discriminate against any individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by Section 601 of Title VI or 49 C.F.R. § 21, or because he or she has made a complaint, testified, assisted, or participated in any manning in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under 49 C.F.R. § 21. 49 C.F.R. § 21.1 l (e).”
It is our view that the LACMTA consistently exhibits a hostile attitude towards the Labor/Community Strategy Center in our efforts to carry out our job as a civil rights organization. While some might observe that they treat us with no more contempt than they do the general public.
Mr. Washington’s statement below is the tip of the iceberg.
“In addition, we were able to secure an opportunity for Mr. Eric Mann to address the Metro Board of Directors for three minutes as part of the response to my CEO report on January 26, 2017.”
Again, this is both a misrepresentation and a complete misunderstanding of what we requested. In our meeting I asked Mr. Washington for 15 minutes to address the MTA board so the Strategy Center could convince them of the seriousness of the problem. There had been a past tradition of previous boards allowing the Strategy Center to make such presentations. To my surprise Mr. Washington did not seem very supportive and simply said, “I’ll convey your request to the chair. I told him I felt that was disrespectful on its face and not consistent with the process we were trying to carry out. That evening Mr. Washington called me back to tell me that the chair had agreed to give me 5 minutes to speak if I would tell the other students, bus riders, and other members of the public that I spoke for them and they would give up their right to speak. I informed him that under no circumstances would I do so in that my role as director of LCSC and the complainant was to try to give a coherent presentation to the board but not at all to violate the public comment rights of my members or any members of the public and found that proposal unacceptable. He got back to me and I was told that under the circumstances “the chair” only agreed to give me 3 minutes (only 2 minutes more than I would have under public comment anyway.) I explained that was unacceptable but would not fight it any further.
So, rather than reporting the MTA gave me/us all of 3 minutes to explain our position (in that everyone gets only 1 minute to speak) he should have reported, “We denied Mr. Mann’s request to address the board and present the LCSC side of the story.
At the Board meeting, let me give two other examples of how the MTA does not want to engage civil rights advocacy.
* A noted civil rights attorney and UCLA Professor addressed the board. She introduced herself and began to explain the possibility that as the legal advisor to the LCSC she and we were also considering concomitant legal action and before she could even finish her next sentence her minute was up and the chair said, “Next” and told her to sit down. It was very painful to see a prominent Black woman in the community treated that way but of course it is the normal way that bus and train riders are treated but still it was un-nerving to all to see.
* Then a Latino member of the Strategy Center told the MTA board that in his view MTA policies are leading to the mass dispersal of Black residents of Los Angeles and such policies are under U.N. Statutes consistent with charges of genocide. Board member Ara Ajarian interrupted the speaker and began yelling at him—telling him that as an Armenian his people had suffered genocide at the hands of the Turks and told stories of atrocities inflicted on his family. He said that under no circumstances could the world genocide be used to describe MTA or L.A. treatment of Black people. It was again chilling and profoundly hostile.
After the meeting we had a meeting of the high school students, workers, professionals who had attended the meeting and they recounted how difficult it is to come to these meetings, try to reach this board and be treated with such aggressive contempt—and yes, how intimidating it is to try to exercise their civil rights. They were not intimidated; to be clear, in fact they were very angry, but to also be clear they were deeply hurt by this treatment no matter how brave a face they put on the situation. It is our view that this consistent hostility to the Strategy Center is because of our long history of bringing civil rights charges and proposals in front of this board. We were the organization that has brought civil rights charges against the MTA in 1996, won a federal temporary restraining order against the MTA for raising fare and eliminating the monthly bus pass, and presided over a 10 year federal court supervised Consent Decree that did lead to significant improvements for 500,000 bus and train riders. Then LCSC filed another DOT civil rights complaint in 2014 charging the MTA with cutting all 1 million hours of bus service we won during the Consent Decree and raising bus/train fares significantly after we had lowered them during the CD. Now, as LCSC has filed a 3rd civil rights action against the MTA and continues to function as de-facto class representative of the MTA’s passengers we believe the MTA is retaliating against us by having surface bargaining meetings such as the one with Mr. Washington and refusing to engage any of our proposals during public comment.
We urge your continued participation in this process and investigation and if anything urge an expedited process.
Labor/Community Strategy Center
cc: Phillip A. Washington, Chief Executive Officer
Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles County Sheriff
Courtney Wilkerson, Acting Associate Administrator FTA Bonnie Graves, Attorney-Advisor FTA
Dawn Sweet, Senior Equal Opportunity Specialist FTA Dan Levy, Chief Officer, Office of Civil Rights, Metro
Alex Wiggins, Chief Officer, System Security and Law Enforcement