Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority police are reviewing use of force during transit officers’ arrest of a young black woman caught on camera being pushed to the ground after bringing chips and a lollipop to the Columbia Heights Metro on Oct. 18.
The video, released by activist organization Black Lives Matter D.C., shows an unnamed 18-year-old woman enter the Metro station at 6:35 p.m. with food, which violates Metro policy. After refusing to discard her food when asked twice by WMATA police, the woman was handcuffed and pushed to the ground. Charges have not been filed by WMATA police.
WMATA spokesperson Richard Jordan said the arrest is still being evaluated by WMATA administration, which has yet to arrive at any final decisions on how to address the incident.
“[Metro Transit Police Department] is reviewing the matter, as is the case whenever there is a public concern raised,” Jordan wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The incident has raised concerns for members of the D.C. Council, including Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who called for an investigation of the incident last week in a letter to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. Nadaeu referred to the incident as an excessive use of force and requested more information on WMATA police training.
“I am extremely concerned that WMATA police officers took the measures they did in detaining this young woman,” Nadeau wrote. “Please conduct an investigation into the conduct of these officers. Please also describe to me what training WMTA police undergo for de-escalation tactics.”
Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital, said the officers’ demonstrated excessive force. According to Spitzer, because the teenager did not present a danger to other passengers, there should have been a less forceful way to make her comply.
“The officer’s reaction was certainly excessive,” Spitzer said. “An officer should have ways to deal with uncooperative citizens that are short of taking them down to the floor and putting them in handcuffs. Especially when there are other officers nearby who can assist.”
Spitzer noted however there would not have been trouble had the woman simply followed Metro rules to begin with. Spitzer said citizens should exercise commonsense restraint when asked by officers to follow rules.
“People are not supposed to be eating on the Metro system. There are signs all over about that; people should be aware of that,” Spitzer said. “If she was a good citizen and the officer had said, ‘You’ve got to get rid of that lollipop,’ really she should have gotten rid of the lollipop.”
Spitzer said this incident is not unusual for WMATA police, and officers need to work better with young people rather than immediately resorting to force.
“We’ve had several lawsuits that we have brought against Metro officers over the years for excessive force and in particular for excessive force against juveniles,” Spitzer said. “We think that Metro needs to do a better job of training their officers to deal with people, particularly young people, and we think there’s a serious difference between a crime and a lollipop.”
Victoria Efetevbia (COL ’17), a student involved in civil rights activism, said the matter goes beyond police force and is instead indicative of the pattern of unequal treatment received by different races at the hands of Metro police.
“I feel that it’s not even an issue of excessive force, but an issue of force in general. Force should have never been used,” Efetevbia wrote in an email to The Hoya. “When white professionals cram into the Metro trains on their way to and from work with their smelly salads and bagels, they are never arrested or even fined.”
Raquel King (GRD ’16), who organized a march from Georgetown to the White House earlier this month to raise awareness for the deaths of unarmed black people, agreed the teen was breaking the rules but said the Metro police should have instead involved her parents and made the situation more positive.
“This should have been a learning experience, a teaching experience,” King said. “What I think they should have done is say, ‘I want you to stay right here. I want to call your mom and speak to her about the fact that there’s this law in place. This is a warning.”
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