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The MTA Murder of the Unknown Rider

On Tuesday, August 29th, the press reported that an MTA passenger in Los Angeles was killed fleeing from Long Beach police. He fell or was pushed in front of an ongoing train. The police claimed they could not identify the victim—who they called “the suspect.” I wrote this article based on that information. Today, Sunday, September 3, the police have finally identified the person they killed. His name is Cesar Rodriguez, 23. So far, that’s it. The story below stands. In the next few days I will investigate “Who is and was Cesar Rodgriguez” and write a follow up.” As we say below, our deep condolences to the brother and his family. This story is not at all over. The Unknown Rider is now the Barely Known Rider but that will change! I promise. 

At 9 PM on Tuesday, August 29, 2017 a man, The Unknown Passenger, committed the grave mistake of riding the MTA Blue Line in Los Angeles. A few minutes later he was dead, pushed off the platform by a Long Beach policeman and crushed by an oncoming train. The police were working for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, a $7 billion a year gentrifying construction agency that my organization, the Labor/Community Strategy Center has been fighting for 20 years with our ongoing call, Stop Transit Racism.

Was he Black? Probably, in that while 19 percent of MTA’s passengers are Black more than 60 percent of the people harassed, bullied, brutalized, ticketed and arrested on MTA trains are Black. The Strategy Center has filed a civil rights complaint against the MTA with the U.S. Department of Transportation charging the MTA with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act—carrying out systematic and egregious anti-Black discrimination in the process of fare collection and stop and frisk. The DOT has accepted the complaint and is carrying out its own investigation. Sadly, the MTA is not sorry or penitent in fact they are defiant. We have reached out to Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Supervisor Hilda Solis, and Janet Hahn. So far they have not chosen to help us. The problem with Democratic liberals is that they believe they are immune from charges of violating the civil rights of others—which is why during The Sixties we in the civil rights movement used “liberal” as a curse word. They are afraid of no one—except apparently their own passengers especially those who are Black.

Was he Latino? Very possibly. Latinos are 50 percent of all MTA riders and also targeted by MTA police for stop and frisk—but not nearly as often as Blacks. Was he white? Are you kidding? Whites just do not ride public transportation except for very elite lines from the white world to the white world. And no, police do not bother, harass, intimidate let alone ticket, arrest, beat, or kill white folks. After all, a big reason for the police state on the train is to reassure white riders that public transportation is safe for the beneficiaries of the white settler state.  The police are there to subdue the Black and Latino colonial subjects. And yes, despite white liberals, white progressives, white enviros undying love for “public transportation” in theory, in practice they just don’t ride it and when they do they have never fought for the Strategy Center’s campaign for free public transportation and have never fought against transit racism.

So who was this brother, the Unknown Passenger, and what did he do. In that the Long Beach police are still not identifying the victim, who they call “the suspect” for all we know he might have been a white lawyer—after all, the Long Beach police claim they still cannot identify the body and thus cannot release his identity. But that did not stop them from killing the Unknown Passenger. What was his crime? Possibly he did not pay his fare on the train. Or maybe not. Ask any MTA passenger and especially the Black passengers about the humiliating “fare enforcement” police all over the MTA. The MTA has an army of “fare checkers” armed and unarmed riding the trains like an occupying army and treating the passengers like cattle and captives. Or as the Long Beach called this man, “the suspect” and yes, all Blacks and Latinos are suspect in white Amerika. So maybe he did pay his fare, maybe he didn’t. Who the hell cares, it’s just a damn fare and the MTA is already collecting billions of dollars in sales taxes and can afford free public transportation.

But as an L.A. Sheriff told us at the Strategy Center when we demanded that they stop the stop and frisk on the trains, “Listen, there are a lot of bad actors on the trains. Fare checking is our opportunity to check on them and sure enough a lot of them have outstanding warrants or drugs or even guns.” Welcome to the twisted logic of the police state.

So, then the police claim, “allege” as they say, that they searched the brother and found the dreaded “narcotics.” What? Marijuana? Cocaine? Heroin? But fare evasion is not a crime and neither is possession of drugs—but of course they are crimes on The Books of the System—the Black Codes in which daily life is a crime. So then the Unknown Passenger tried to run away and of course the Long Beach police ran after him. Can’t let those white lawyers get away with murder can we. Or was he a Latino? Or Black? Or queer and Black or Latino? Was he on his way to work or play or going to a movie? Did he have a fight with his wife or a loving good-bye? Did he have kids and did he know he would never see them again? In any case we don’t know and the Long Beach claim they cannot identify him.

I wonder if he was Black because the Long Beach police claim they still cannot identify the victim aka “the suspect.” But what race was he? You can tell us that! Nothing stops the police from saying, “The suspect (who they cannot yet identify) was a Black man or a Latino between 4’2 and 6’5 between 120 and 240 pounds very light skinned or dark skinned, wearing a shirt, or not, or a sweater, and he may be armed and dangerous so shoot to kill.”

The Long Beach police can and must identify the race of the “unidentified” and unknown MTA passenger now.

The Strategy Center is calling for a full investigation by the MTA and the public. But then again we can’t expect the MTA and Long Beach Police to investigate themselves. And even if an “independent”  investigator is called in he can’t bring the Unknown Passenger back to life nor can he or she bring back Emmett Till, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Latasha Harlins, or Oscar Grant.

So. We call for Free Public Transportation and an immediate end to MTA fare collection—no fares at all, no fare collection, “Hey MTA, Get your hands off us. Leave us the hell alone.”

We will chant Stop MTA Genocide Against the Black Nation. Sadly, as the Jews in Germany came to see when most of the Germans were in on the deal, very few people seem to give a damn about genocide against Black folks—and even some Black folks are so exhausted and depressed that a form of the genocide is they know it’s true but don’t want to look that terror squarely in the eye.

The Strategy Center is carrying out a Civil Rights Watch on Buses and Trains and has collected more than 100 declarations from Black train riders describing in great detail the citations, arrests, and daily humiliations on the MTA trains for the crime of being poor and Black and then being brought to MTA court—how the hell did the MTA get to set up its own court to prosecute its own passengers. It’s like the old days when every plantation owner was judge, jury, and executioner. Now we have “transit police” “school police” and every institution gets to set up its own police force, its own laws, its own court, its own punishments. But we do know one thing for sure. A human being whose life counted, and possibly whose Black life mattered, is dead. He did nothing wrong but the MTA’s fare collection machine carried out by the Long Beach Police Department, LAPD, L.A. County Sheriffs, private police pushed him to his death.

For the organizer, for the civil rights organizer, for the revolutionary organizer there is always hope. Many of our organizers are Black and Latino high school students at Augustus Hawkins and Roosevelt High Schools. Many are veterans of our Bus Riders Union. Some are new recruits from our Historically Black Colleges and Universities Summer Intern Program where they are seeing police racism in Los Angeles worse than the racism in Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis Tennessee, Tallahassee Florida, and Mobile Alabama where they grew up. We are organizing in the projects of Mar Vista and on the Crenshaw and Vermont bus lines, the Blue Line and the Exposition line. Manuel Criollo and Elmo Gomez are organizing Latinos Against Black Genocide to call the question of greater solidarity in the face of a human rights crisis facing the entire working class and all oppressed peoples. We have built the Strategy and Soul Movement Center—a four-storefront complex at the corner of King and Crenshaw in South Los Angeles with our own state of the art film theater, Strategy and Soul Books, Strategy and Soul Food, and our city-wide Fight for the Soul of the Cities movement office. Maybe the murder of the Unknown Passenger can be one of those events that shapes history. At least that is what we are trying to do.

Free Public Transportation Now!

No MTA Police or Sheriffs on MTA trains and buses!

No enforcement or collection of fares—keep your hands off us!

Our deepest condolences to the Unknown Passenger, his family, and friends!

Stop MTA Genocide Against the Black Nation!

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Eric Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality, Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers and the author of Katrina’s Legacy: White Racism and Black Reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He can be reached at eric@voicesfromthefrontlines.com

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