A confrontation between a white officer and a black man eating at the Pleasant Hill BART station has caused controversy about police targeting people of color. (Courtesy photo)

Black riders disproportionately cited by BART police for eating and drinking

People of color have been disproportionately targeted by BART police officers for eating or drinking on trains and on BART platforms, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Data on citations for police code violations pertaining to eating and drinking on BART obtained by the Examiner after a public records request reveal that out of the 55 people cited since Oct. 1, 2014, more than 80 percent were people of color.

African Americans were cited most frequently for consuming food or drinks on BART, with a total of 33 citations given to black passengers. Latino and “other” ethnic groups comprised the second largest group cited since Oct. 1, 2014, with 13 citations.

White passengers comprised just nine of the citations, and the ethnicity of one person cited in the time period for which data was requested was marked as “unknown.”

The records request was filed after a man was detained earlier this month for eating a sandwich at the Pleasant Hill BART Station. A viral video of the interaction between passenger Steve Foster and BART police Officer D. McCormick showed the officer handcuffing Foster and walking him off the platform.

The detainment was protested by BART riders — including BART board Director Janice Li — who days after the incident gathered at the Embarcadero Station platform to eat sandwiches.

BART issued information about the identities of riders. (Courtesy photo)

Foster has since hired notable civil rights attorney John Burris and plans to sue BART, claiming that he was improperly detained “without reasonable suspicion” and that the incident caused him to miss work as well as emotional distress, the Examiner reported previously.

While police cite black BART riders more often, most BART riders are white and Asian.

According to 2018 BART ridership data, only 10 percent of BART riders are black.

Comparatively, white riders made up 35 percent of BART’s total ridership last year, while Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander riders made up 17 percent and 32 percent respectively. Native American and “other” ethnicities made up 6 percent of BART’s ridership.

To see the full citation data for 2015-2015, click here. To see the full citation data for 2016-2019, click here.

Anand Subramanian, managing director of PolicyLink, a research institute focused on racial and economic equity, said the citation data “certainly seems indicative of bias and who is stopped for an infraction and who is not.”

“I’m not surprised the enforcement over food has been largely black and brown. A black man in a hoodie eating a sandwich is perceived differently than a white man in a suit drinking a coffee, though both are breaking the law,” said Darrell Owens, an East Bay housing and transportation advocate who spoke previously at a BART board meeting on the incident.

Owens said that BART police app reports show that “riders were more likely to report black and brown people doing non-criminal behavior,” citing a 2015 investigation by the East Bay Express.

In response to the data, Burris, the civil rights attorney, told the Examiner that he is “not surprised at all” that a majority of citations for such a low-level offense as eating and drinking on BART were given to people of color.

“I would say I’ve always been concerned by selective law enforcement, and that’s the basis of my lawsuit, my claim — selective enforcement of [a] law that’s violated all the time,” said Burris. “It’s racial profiling at its fundamental essence.”

BART spokesperson Alicia Trost said that the data shows that citations are “very rare” but are “handed out at stations across the system, both urban and suburban.”

Kelly Groth and District 8 BART Director Janice Li protest at Embarcadero Station. on Nov. 9. (Caroline Ghisolfi/Special to S.F. Examiner)
In the photo above, BART board director Janice Li attends an “eat-in” protest at Embarcadero BART station against police citations of people eating in and on BART stations and trains.

In the photo above, BART board director Janice Li attends an “eat-in” protest at Embarcadero BART station against police citations of people eating in and on BART stations and trains.

“When an officer witnesses someone eating, they remind the rider that eating is not allowed and if the rider puts the food away no citation is necessary. It is a rare occurrence to need to issue a citation after reminding the rider not to eat,” said Trost.

All officers train annually for a minimum of 24 hours, in “fair and impartial policing, bias-based policing, crisis intervention, cultural competency training and de-escalation” tactics, Trost said.



Citations for eating and drinking issued by BART:

From 10/1/14 to 11/25/15:

Total citations: 17

EthnicityBlack: 11

White : 4

Other: 2

GenderMale: 12

Female: 4

Unknown gender: 1

From 5/10/16 to 11/04/19:

Total Citations: 38

Ethnicity:Black: 22


Other: 3

Hispanic: 7

Unknown: 1

GenderMale: 35

Female: 3

Unknown Gender: 0

Total citations from 10/1/14 to 11/04/19: 55Total black: 33

White: 9

Hispanic: 7

Other: 5 (could include Hispanic)

Unknown: 1

Source: BART

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