Op-Ed: How Long Does It Take to Do the Right Thing?

ESI – 53 St
MTA Executive Director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim reopened the 53 St Station on the R line in Brooklyn on Fri., September 8, 2017, after a rehabilitation under the Enhanced Station Initiative (ESI.) The initiative modernizes stations and features improved customer experience. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

In July of 2017, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said that he supported the decriminalization of fare evasion. Mr. Gonzalez made these remarks after Manhattan District Attorney, Cy Vance, announced that he would stop prosecuting fare evasion cases in Manhattan. Eight months have passed since Mr. Gonzalez announced support for Cy Vance’s policy and we have yet to see the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office stop the prosecution of fare evasion. We must ask Mr. Gonzalez, “how long it takes to do the right thing?”

Brandon Hicks from the National Action Network

It is common knowledge that NYPD transit officers target and disproportionately arrest black and brown Brooklyn commuters. The Community Service Society released a study in October 2017 which showed that 90% of the arrests for fare evasion in 2016 were of black and brown folks. Mr. Gonzalez’s inaction on this issue is underscored by the fact that he ran a campaign which emphasized his ability to connect and build bridges with minority communities. Myself and many others are wondering why Mr. Gonzalez, a man who campaigned as an ally to black communities, is taking so long to deliver for the communities he said he would protect.

I have been canvasing in East New York and Brownsville, the communities which experience the brunt of fare evasion arrests, and I have heard too many stories about people being arrested for not having enough money to ride the train. Not surprisingly, the stories I have heard also include detailed accounts of seeing NYPD transit officers targeting young black kids who attempt to ride the train. In an attempt to warn black people in East New York and Brownsville about the train stations with the highest arrests rates, National Action Network created the ‘Black Comuters’ Guide Brooklyn’ which shows the train stations black people should avoid. Still, we knew this guide alone wouldn’t end arrests for fare evasion.

Simply highlighting the biased, racist, and morally reprehensible actions of officers in the NYPD does not lead to officers changing their behavior. The police in New York do not self-correct. They only change after protests, courts orders, or when elected officials enact policies which mandate reforms. We have over 20 years of protests against police brutality by Rev. Al Sharpton and National Action Network to prove this point.

Black people who ride the trains in Brooklyn are in desperate need of Mr. Gonzalez to end the prosecution of fare evasion because it will end officers’ incentive to target poor black people in train stations. If Mr. Gonzalez ends the prosecution of fare evasion in Brooklyn, he would be helping to curb the arrests of poor black and brown commuters.

For eight months, Mr. Gonzalez’s office has been studying the issue of fare evasion. They must know that these arrests are concentrated in low-income black communities. Now is the time for Mr. Gonzalez to do the right thing and end the prosecution of fare evasion. The ease with which Mr. Gonzalez’s office prosecutes thousands of black men a year is the same ease that Mr. Gonzalez should act with, in announcing the end of his office’s prosecution of fare evasion.

It’s not enough for Mr. Gonzalez to be the first Latino district attorney in Brooklyn if he lacks the courage necessary to help black and brown folks who may never achieve his success. It is necessary that allies to black people do the right thing even when the right thing requires them to make difficult decisions. If Mr. Gonzalez does not end the prosecution of fare evasion in Brooklyn, how can we be sure that he will do the right thing in tougher situations?

 Brandon Hicks is National Organizer with National Action Network. 

Editor’s Note: As a general rule, it is KCP policy to accept and post all original op-eds it receives. All op-eds may or may not reflect the views of KCP.