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Transit Authority Withholds Video Over Racism Fear

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The transit authority in San Francisco is refusing to release surveillance video of recent criminal activity, citing fears about racial stereotyping to explain the move.

Bay Area Rapid Transit CEO Kerry Hamill sent a memo to the organization's directors July 7 noting the decision, KPIX reported.

Debora Allen, a member of BART's board of directors, told KPIX what the company had informed her by way of an explanation.

"To release these videos would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district," BART told Allen. "And in addition it would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains."

The incidents include a series of robberies, including one on April 22, when between 40 and 60 kids got on a train and robbed seven passengers; the robbery of a passenger June 28 by four kids; and the theft of a phone by a group of teenagers from a woman on June 30.

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In addition, Hamill pointed out that in regard to the most recent incident, it was a petty crime that did not warrant media coverage.

"I think people are genuinely concerned -- they are fearful about the stories that have come out about the recent attacks, the assaults, the thefts," Allen said.

After Allen questioned Hamill about why race was an issue in relation to the recent crimes, Hamill responded that media attention could exaggerate the seriousness of the incidents.

"My view is that the media's real interest in the videos of youth phone snatching incidents isn't the desire for transparency but rather the pursuit of ratings," she wrote. "They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear."

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Hamill also referred to the case of Oscar Grant, who died after a BART police officer shot him at a transit station in 2009. The organization became a target for criticism, with some arguing that officers had displayed racism in their dealings with Grant and his friends.

Grant was detained by an officer after allegedly being involved in a fight on a train, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. A second officer fired his gun while trying to arrest him. A jury later convicted the second officer of involuntary manslaughter.

Allen disagrees with Hamill's decision not to release video of the recent theft cases.

"This is BART, people are sort of trapped in this train for awhile and they have a right to see what could potentially happen," she said.

Allen argued the episode raises questions about BART's priorities.

"What is the priority of BART?" she asked. "Is the safety of the passenger -- of all passengers -- is that a lesser priority than the race bias issue."

Sources: KPIX, San Francisco Chronicle / Photo credit: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons, Matthew Black/Wikimedia Commons, JacobRuff/Wikimedia Commons

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