San Francisco's Race Problem

By David Himmel

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, which serves the San Francisco Bay area is having some problems. In the last 90 or so days, three attacks on its riders have been perpetrated by a group of teenagers. The attacks have included robberies, beatings, harassments—you know, general mischievous teenage behavior gone terribly awry.

The hooligans haven’t been caught. And part of the reason for that is BART’s fault. It’s not releasing the surveillance videos.

In situations like these, providing surveillance camera footage to the public is a surefire way to help catch the criminals. It shows the public what they look like and, therefore, for whom to keep an eye out. It’s the modern-day version of the Old West’s WANTED posters. And it works, too. While I usually would not direct you to anything published by Huffington Post, this story, published in 2015, compiles seven instances where surveillance video was key in catching the offenders.

But nope, BART won’t do it. Why not? Because, “To release these videos would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district. And in addition, it would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains,” according to Debora Allen, a member of the BART Board of Directors.

BART also refuses to issue any kind of press release around the third incident in the trifecta, which occurred on June 30 because “it was a ‘petty crime’ that would make BART look ‘crime ridden.’ Furthermore, it would ‘unfairly affect and characterize riders of color, leading to sweeping generalizations in media reports.’” That’s according to a memo sent to the directors from BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill.

The first problem with this is that BART is lying to itself. BART is, quite arguably, crime ridden. Three attacks in three months? The second and third occurred on June 28 and June 30 with terrible irony because on June 28, BART announced that it had completed the project of installing surveillance cameras in all of its train cars in response to a revelation following a fatal shooting, which occurred in January 2016, that not all of its cameras worked or were anything more than decoys.

BART knows that cameras—real or fake—don’t deter the crime. So why not use the video it collected from those brand new working cameras to let the Bay Area help catch the teenage brutes? Unless those new cameras weren’t working and BART is trying to avoid embarrassment… But that is absolutely my own momentary speculation. And I don’t really believe that. What I do believe is that San Francisco, and specifically, Hamill and the BART organization has gone off the deep end of the extreme left side of reason.

By keeping surveillance tapes of crimes from the media and the public out of concern that the media and those people will react with racist, knee-jerk conclusions, you are promoting the idea that race is an issue Bay Area residents—or Americans as a whole—cannot discuss. The hoodlums are the hoodlums. Those who see these hoodlums and assume that all teenagers of that race are also hoodlums need a better education.

The issue of systemic racism must be front and center in order for us to ever have a chance of overcoming it. Hamill’s heart is in the right place. She’s trying to prevent further unfair stereotyping against minority youth. But her brain is nowhere near her heart. Her brain is keeping BART riders at risk, unable to lend a hand in protecting and improving their community. This is a public safety issue, not a racial one. If it was a group of black teenagers or Asian teenagers or Indian teenagers or Orthodox Jewish teenagers or white teenagers, the video should be shone in the hope that they’ll be recognized and brought to justice.

There is the argument that the suspects are underage and that it is illegal to show their faces or name them. And that’s fine. BART should say that’s the reason it’s not releasing the videos—it would be illegal to do so. This race thing is just making the race problem in this country worse.

We must do a better job of addressing general racism. And if the stereotype rings true in any form—Orthodox Jewish teenagers are violent monsters—we need to then address the reason why. Ignoring it, keeping the issue and the conversation locked away in a safe space vault will only exacerbate the problem or worse, maintain it. Because inaction is a horrible thing and that’s exactly the business BART seems to be in right now.