As Metro Police have ramped up enforcement of the fare evasion law, a disproportionate number of people issued citations are black, a new report from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs shows. The study comes as activists push the DC Council to vote on a bill to decriminalize fare evasion in the District.
The Committee filed a public records request with WMATA for data about Metro Police enforcement of the fare evasion law from January 2016 to February 2018, including the age, race, and gender of those stopped, arrested, or issued citations. The data also shows where enforcement occurred.
Here are some of the key findings of the report, which was developed in collaboration with local organizations advocating in support of the decriminalization bill.
Fare evasion enforcement is rising
Between January 1, 2016 and February 5, 2018, more than 30,000 people were stopped for suspected fare evasion. In 2016, 5,360 citations/summons were issued, and in 2017, that number jumped to 13,762. This big picture isn’t new: these numbers track closely with a Washington Post story from last year that highlighted increased enforcement.
What is new is that fare evasion enforcement may climb even higher in 2018: in January, police issued 1,400 citations and summons.
As fare evasion enforcement rises, so do stricter consequences. The report found that while in 2016, 59% of those stopped had been issued a citation/summons, by 2017 that number rose to 80%.
Overall, between January 1, 2016 and February 5, 2018, more than 2,000 people were arrested after being stopped for fare evasion.
The fare evasion law is disproportionately enforced against black people
Alarmingly, the report showed that 91% of citations/summons were issued to black people, and only 8% to white people, despite the fact that black people make up about half of the population of DC and there is no evidence that black people evade fares more than white people.
A whopping 46% of all citations were issued to black people under the age of 25.
Enforcement targets Metro stops in majority-black neighborhoods
The highest number of warnings or citations/summons, 4,292, were issued at Gallery Place, followed closely by Anacostia with 3,977. Together, these two stops account for 29% of all fare evasion warnings or citations/summons in the Metro system.
The report notes that Gallery Place, where the Red Line meets the Green and Yellow, is where many black people come in contact with white people, and that the area has a history of enforcement against young black people.
Additionally, more than a third of all fare evasion stops occurred east of the Anacostia River, and more than 70% of stops occurred at Metrorail stations.
What’s next for the fare evasion decriminalization debate
With the DC Council’s legislative session coming to a close in December, a coalition of activist groups are pushing for a vote on the bill, though one has yet to be scheduled. Those in support have pointed to several incidents this summer as reason to urgently move the bill, including ICE arrests in Columbia Heights.
On Wednesday evening, witnesses posted on Twitter that Metro Police pepper sprayed and handcuffed black teenagers at the NoMa station for alleged fare evasion. Using the hashtag #ItsNotFare, supporters of the bill have pointed to this incident as yet another example of the disproportionate enforcement and use of force against black people for fare evasion.
With the Council back from its summer recess this week, expect to see this issue gain more attention in the near future.
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