The way Black people are policed in American received a fresh batch of scrutiny on Friday after a pair of videos went viral on social media showing a transit cop in northern California going to extreme lengths to detain a Black man who was guilty of eating a sandwich while waiting for a train on his way to work. The incident of apparent racial profiling and selective enforcement of a nonviolent law that people said was rarely enforced prompted a massive demonstration at the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains station in San Francisco‘s Embarcardero neighborhood.
People who were outraged over the detention held an “eat in” on Saturday at same the Pleasant Hill / Contra Costa Centre Station where the officer, only identified as D. McCormick as displayed on his uniform, arrested the unidentified Black man, according to ABC News.
The officer for the BART Police Department had already approached the Black man — only identified by the cop as “Mr. Foster” — who was eating a breakfast sandwich while standing on the train platform when the video begin rolling. The officer can be seen with a grip around the man’s backpack, refusing to let go and telling him he was being detained for violating a law that forbids any food or drink in the paid portions of BART. When the man says he bought the sandwich right outside of the station and that other riders were drinking coffee nearby, the cop all but shrugged and remained laser-focused on making an arrest — and an example of the Black man.
“You are detained and you are not free to go,” McCormick said on more than one occasion. “You’re eating. It’s against the law.”
The Black man, clearly agitated, remained as calm as anyone could expect for such a heated confrontation, even after McCormick said he was originally looking for an intoxicated woman when he saw the food being eaten.
More officers arrived to assist McCormick and handcuffed the man before taking him away to a private room, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
A second video shows McCormick explaining himself to the unidentified woman who filmed both videos.
“No matter how you feel about eating on BART, the officer saw someone eating and asked him to stop, when he didn’t, he was given a citation,” BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Chronicle while confirming that an arrest did not take place. Trost added that an independent police auditor was reviewing the case.
Both videos can be seen below. Please be advised that the first video contains profanity.
Fortunately, no one was killed. That wasn’t the case when 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by BART police while lying face-down on the Fruitvale Station platform in nearby Oakland early New Year’s Day 2009.
Aggressive policing tactics for people eating in a subway system — especially Black people — has a sordid history in America.
Cops in Washington, D.C., handcuffed a 12-year-old Black girl for eating french fries in the city’s Metro system in 2000. “We really do believe in zero tolerance,” then-Metro Transit Police Chief Barry J. McDevitt told the Washington Post at the time.
Earlier this year and also in D.C., a white woman posted video footage of a Black subway employee who was eating on the subway in an attempt to shame the worker. It backfired when Natasha Tynes, the woman who filmed the video, got called out on social media for trying to get a Black woman fired. In that case, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) union said the employee was well within her rights to eat on board one of its trains even though WMATA’s website said in part that no one was allowed to “Eat, drink, smoke or litter on Metro vehicles or in stations. Metro Transit Police issue citations or make arrests to enforce the law.”