Here in Oregon, we are fortunate to have a public transit system that, for the most part, allows us to reliably get from Point A to Point B safely, economically, and in an environmentally responsible way. I am thankful to our dedicated bus riders, train operators, and transit workers for making this public service possible every day.
What the court’s decision strongly validates is what transit riders like myself have been voicing for years: despite best intentions, our fare enforcement system is severely broken, has caused great harm to innocent people, and must change immediately.
I have lost count of the number of times that I have been stopped by transit police, with and without my children.
I have been stopped while trying to get to work, to my son’s school, to a prenatal visit, to the grocery store. Transit police have stopped me with my children in tow, leaving them confused, scared, and asking, “Do those men have guns?”
After the events of March 13, I tried unsuccessfully to shield my children from the news that their mother had been jailed. Shortly after the incident, they began playing a new game with each other that they called “the jail game.” It was similar to “Tag, you’re it,” except this time it was “Tag, you’re going to jail.”
I interrupted their game immediately to let them know that jail is not okay. Jail is not a game.
Certainly, jail is not a place that anyone should end up after simply trying to go about their daily business.
The experience of being stopped by transit police is not unlike an intrusive game of “Tag, you’re it,” or “Tag, you’re going to jail.” Because of these unfair and unconstitutional stops, my family and I have repeatedly been made to feel targeted, suspected, and accused of not belonging on a public transit system that belongs to all of us.
Being wrongfully arrested, jailed, and prosecuted nearly broke me. No person should ever be made to feel confused or afraid by officers that are supposed to be keeping us safe. Our task now, long overdue, is to figure out a better, more humane and dignified way to treat our transit riders.
The story that I will tell my babies, when they are old enough, is this: Yes, Mami went to jail. And it was not okay. But the community rallied around her, stood up for her, and together they fought back — because that’s what good people are supposed to do. And when good people fight, we win.