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San Francisco's public transit system withholds crime surveillance videos to avoid ‘stereotypes’

Authorities at the Bay Area Rapid Transit are refusing to release surveillance video of recent crimes because doing so “would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district.” (Image Source: KPIX-TV screenshot)

Authorities with San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit service are refusing to release surveillance videos of several crimes because doing so “would create a high level of racially insensitive commentary toward the district.”

Over the last three months, there have been at least three robberies on BART trains, but footage of those crimes won’t see the light of day, if officials with the transportation service get their way, KPIX-TV reported.

Debora Allen, a member of the BART board of directors, said she was told that releasing the video surveillance “would create a racial bias in the riders against minorities on the trains.”

Allen, unsatisfied with what she had been told, emailed BART assistant general manager Kerry Hamill about the issue, writing: “I don’t understand what role the color of one’s skin plays in this issue [of whether to divulge information]. Can you explain?”

Hamill replied: “If we were to regularly feed the news media video of crimes on our system that involve minority suspects, particularly when they are minors, we would certainly face questions as to why we were sensationalizing relatively minor crimes and perpetuating false stereotypes in the process.”

And according to BART spokesman Taylor Huckaby, state law protecting “juvenile police records” bars them from releasing the surveillance footage. He added that blurring out the faces of the minors would only lead people to pointlessly watch the videos.

Hamill agreed, saying 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,” referring to video of a phone theft on June 30. “They know that video of these events will drive clicks to their websites and viewers to their programs because people are motivated by fear.”

Hamill defended BART’s position by citing the 2009 death of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man who was fatally shot by a BART police officer responding to a brawl that broke out at Fruitvale Station on New Year’s Day. At the time, footage of the incident was shared online.

Allen, for her part, still wants surveillance video of the recent crimes to be released.

“I think people are genuinely concerned — they are fearful about the stories that have come out about the recent attacks, the assaults, the thefts,” she said. “What is the priority of BART? Is the safety of the passenger — of all passengers — is that a lesser priority than the race bias issue?”

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