By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day more than 46 organizations publicly admonished Mayor Bowser’s veto of the {Fare Evasion Decriminalization Bill}, joining Council member Robert C. White, Jr. who released a blunt statement criticizing the move last week.

The letter by local organizations was addressed to D.C. Council members saying: “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.”

D.C. Council members and proponents for the decriminalization of metro fare evasion are crtiicizing the mayor for her choice to veto the bill which would make fare evasion a civil offense. (Courtesy Image/Logo)

The letter also pointed to data found in the Washington Lawyers Committee report which stated that some 91% of all fare evasions involved a Black person, typically a young Black male.

Represented in the chorus of opponents to the veto include organizations such as the ACLU of District of Columbia, Bread for the City, D.C. for Democracy, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Black Lives Matter D.C., among others.

Late last week Councilman At large Council White offered a statement that hit Twitter. In the statement he said, “I am disappointed that the Mayor used a rare veto to overturn the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018. WMATA fare evasion enforcement data shows a stark and undeniably racial disparity. Advocating for an enforcement practice that is clearly discriminatory is unjust, and we can not forsake justice in the name of “financial challenges.” When we do people of color and low-income residents bear the consequences of our inaction. Vetoing a criminal justice bill without offering an alternative solution hurts our residents. I ask that the Mayor strongly consider reversing course.”

The bill (22-0408) which passed the D.C. Council by a voice vote, would have reduced the fine for fare evasion down to a $100 civil fine. Currently the law can fine a person up to $300, imprisonment of no more than 10 days or both. The bill stated that in practice the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority usually issues warnings, $50 fines or makes arrests.

On Jan. 16 Bowser vetoed the bill. In a letter addressed to Council chair Phil Mendelson, the mayor cited Metro’s financial challenges and that the District loses between $25 million and $50 million from fare evasion and that Bill 22-0408 might make matters worse.

“While {Bill 22-408} also has the aim of reducing the impact of the criminal justice system, it would be to the detriment of the Metro system and its users. We should not encourage lawlessness on Metro, which could exacerbate public safety concerns on our Metro system and in our city,” the letter stated.

The bill was originally introduced on July 11, 2017 by Council members  Trayvon White Sr. (D- Ward 8), Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), Elissa Silverman (D- At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At-Large), White (D-At-Large), Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 5), David Grosso (D-At-Large), and Kenyan A. McDuffie (D-Ward 4) at Committee of the Whole meeting. The D.C. Council still has an opportunity to override the mayor’s veto.

A motion to override the veto is scheduled for Tuesday during the next D.C. Council Legislative Meeting.