A debate is playing out publicly in the news media between BART directors and executives as well as between members of the media and BART over how much detail the transit system should be releasing on robberies and criminal acts that occur on trains and in stations. Yesterday we he heard word via an internal memo that BART is not releasing video of recent attacks because they might cause “racially insensitive commentary” and promote “a racial bias in the riders.” This despite mounting rider concerns over the 45 percent increase in robberies on BART, a strong-arm robbery and beating by a dozen teen perpetrators July 4 weekend, a four-teen attack on June 28, and of course the infamous April 22 “flash mob attack” in which 30-60 teens beat and robbed several passengers. But several BART directors are publicly disparaging the policy of withholding the video, and airing the BART Board’s grievances with one another openly.
“I think that the attack on April 22 should be shown, even if faces are blurred,” BART Board member Debora Allen tells ABC 7 in the video above. “There is one 19-year-old. These tactics need to be shown in some way to the public to warn riders.”
Allen was also seen in the above Sunday interview segment wherein CBS 5’s Melissa Caen broke the news of the internal BART memo citing “racial bias” reasons to withhold the attack video. Allen appears speaking on the record in the interview, and the leaked memos from BART Assistant General Manager Kerry Hamill also contain email exchanges with Allen.
And of course it is not unreasonable to assume that Allen herself leaked the memos to CBS 5 as a way of pushing back against the policy of concealing the videos.
Allen is not the only top BART executive coming out publicly against the policy. “The memo was regrettable,” BART Director Joel Keller tells the Chronicle. “Transparency trumps everything else. To not be willing to release information to the public because we think we know better what the public can handle is a mistake in my mind.”
BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman also piled on. “I think what we have to do is make as much as we can available to the media and the public and balance that with everything else that’s going on,” Saltzman told the Chronicle.
But there is clearly not consensus among BART leadership here, because BART spokesperson Taylor Huckaby continues to insist that the videos will remain unreleased because they might engender a racially charged response. “We have seen, as a result of that kind of reporting [on these attacks], an increase in calls to our call centers, an increase in our emails and on social media of racially charged invective,” Huckaby told ABC 7.
Huckaby also argued that cellphone robbery attempts by juveniles are minor crimes that do not merit issuing a full press release. But the three most notorious teen mob incidents also involved physical assaults and from the media's perspective, this is less about the individual incidents as it is about an apparent trend.
As a BART rider, I'm personally more afraid of being assaulted than I am of losing my cellphone. And if BART riders are worried about getting roughed up by mobs of teenagers, they'll continue clamoring for full videos and incident reports over the current system of marginal reporting on a third-party crime app.