D.C. City Council overrides mayor’s veto, will allow fare theft because so many perps are black

(Image: screenshot)

The Washington, D.C. City Council made a stand toward “progressive criminal justice reform” in overriding a veto to decriminalize fare evasion.

The Council overwhelmingly voted 11 to 2 to on Tuesday to override a veto by Mayor Muriel Bowser who argued against the bill which would no longer hold fare evasion on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority system as a criminal offense, according to The Washington Post.

(Image: screenshot)

“With this vote, the Council has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the fundamental injustice of the current law, which punishes fare evasion with risk of arrest and jail for as little as a $2 fare,” Nassim Moshiree, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of the District of Columbia, said.

“We are especially grateful the Council has seen through the inflammatory rhetoric and fearmongering by Mayor Bowser and [Metro], and has chosen fairness and equity for all D.C. residents,” Moshiree  added.

The bill was originally introduced by Trayon White, who claimed the current laws meant citations were disproportionately “issued to black people.” White sparked an outcry last year when he accused Jews of controlling the weather and for leaving in the middle of a scheduled tour of Washington’s Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“I’ve seen with my own eyes and read stories,” White said at a Council meeting last month. “Ninety-one percent of citations given were issued to black people.”

Bowser’s veto last week, only her second in office, came as she argued against the measure in a letter to the Council’s Chairman Phil Mendelson, saying “We should not encourage lawlessness on Metro, which could exacerbate public safety concerns on our Metro and in our city.”

But Council members and activists rejected the argument by Bowser and others, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority which manages the metro system.

“There is no evidence that decriminalizing fare evasion will lead to an increase in crime or fare evasion,” Council member David Grosso said. “The larger theory that informs that argument, broken windows theory, has been discredited.”

Council member Brianne Nadeau also stood behind the bill, ranting about the race issue in a tweet posted Tuesday.

But those opposed to the legislation when it was first introduced expressed their disappointment with the Council’s decision to override the mayor.

“The Council missed an opportunity to address the significant issues with this legislation outlined in Mayor Bowser’s veto memo,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said. “We continue to believe that decriminalizing fare theft without an enforceable alternative will have safety and financial consequences for the region.”

“Our union’s membership is made up of more than 80 percent people of color,” the transit agency’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, 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 statement read.

“To go forward with this, I believe, is a slap in the face at the Metro employees,” Council member and Metro board chairman, Jack Evans, said at the hearing. Evans and Chairman Mendelson were the only dissenters on the City Council vote.

The bill, which heads to Congress in order to become law, reduces the charge of fare evasion from a criminal offense to a civil one, and also decriminalizes other offenses such as spitting, littering and playing music without headphones on the metro.

The Council made it clear the progressive direction they’re headed in with their decision, following the lead of districts in California, Seattle, Portland and New York, and many responded with angry reaction on Twitter.

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Frieda Powers

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