Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20004
January 21, 2019
Dear Members of the Council,
We, the undersigned organizations, urge you to vote to override the veto of Mayor Muriel Bowser on bill 22-408, the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2018. As organizations that serve clients, organize constituents, and interact every day with people who directly experience the inequitable enforcement of fare evasion penalties, we have seen firsthand the effects of overcriminalization on entire communities, almost exclusively communities of color.
In many cases, we are the ones who engage with those who have endured a lifetime of interactions with the criminal justice system throughout their lives, often beginning early in life. We know firsthand the sad stories of job applications unanswered, housing applications denied, and how personally degrading it is to be put in handcuffs and pulled off a bus for not being able to afford the fare and bearing the burden of an arrest or criminal record.
Maintaining fare evasion as a crime instead of a civil penalty is a failed policy that has not made our region’s Metro system safer in 40 years and it has not effectively deterred fare evasion. Metro Transit Police have repeatedly made the false and dangerous argument that fare evasion leads to more violent crime. While fare evasion may be a component of offenses committed on Metro, the vast majority of fare evaders do not commit a crime — they are simply trying to get where they need to go safely.
Instead, we know MTPD’s enforcement of fare evasion has been incredibly biased — by now you’ve heard over and over the finding from the Washington Lawyer’s Committee report that 91 percent of all fare evasion stops involved a black rider, typically a young black man. That shows an alarming racial bias in where and how MTPD officers choose to enforce the law.
Making fare evasion a simple civil penalty is the smallest offense the Council could have chosen to decriminalize. Nothing in the bill would change MTPD’s ability to do its job. California, Portland, Seattle, and Alexandria, VA have already decriminalized fare evasion and New York City has declared they will no longer prosecute arrests.
The only change is making the punishment for fare evasion more fair. It’s past time for our elected leaders to recognize criminalizing small offenses is not making us safer — far from it, adding up small charges creates barriers and further pushes marginalized communities down. People need more opportunities, not harsher punishments when ensnared in cycles of poverty.
The Fare Evasion Decriminalization bill passed 10-2 on final vote and we fully expect you will honor your commitment to making this law by showing conviction and courage in your leadership. The people we serve depend on a safe and reliable public transit system for nearly every aspect of their daily routine — for many, it is their lifeline.
We will be watching how you vote.
AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly
ACLU of the District of Columbia
Americans 4 Transit
Black Lives Matter D.C.
Black Swan Academy
Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100)
Bread for the City
Capitol Hill Group Ministry
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
Coalition for Smarter Growth
Coalition of Concerned Mothers
Collective Action for Safe Spaces
Community Mediation DC
DC Alliance of Youth Advocates
DC Environmental Network
DC Fiscal Policy Institute
DC for Democracy
DC Jail & Prison Advocacy Project
DC Statehood Green Party
DC Working Families Party
Drug Policy Alliance
Fair Budget Coalition
Free Minds Book Club and Writing Workshop
Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews United for Justice
Justice for Muslims Collective
Law for Black Lives
Law Students in Court
National Juvenile Justice Network
National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty
National Lawyers Guild - DC Chapter
New Synagogue Project
Open City Advocates
Rev. Graylan Scott Hagler, Senior Minister, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ
StandUp for Kids
Stop Police Terror Project DC
Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association
The Taifa Group
The Timothy Dawkins-El Project
Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless