Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, mgreen@afro.com

When Mayor Muriel Bowser used her power for a rare veto of a bill that would decriminalize metro fare evasion, much of the D.C. Council and local advocacy organizations spoke out against her decision.  So when the District of Columbia Council voted 11-2 to override the veto last week, organizations such as ACLU celebrated.

“We are thrilled that once again a significant majority of the D.C. Council has voted to support this bill by overriding the mayor’s veto of this important legislation,” Nassim Moshiree, policy director for ACLU of the District of Columbia said in a statement.

The D.C. Council voted 11-2 to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto to decriminalize metro fare evasion. (Courtesy Photo)

Many argued that fare evasion as a criminal violation was a harsh penalty for the action, and The Fare Evasion Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2018 (Bill 22-408) would have made demoted the act to a civil offense.

“With this vote, the Council has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the fundamental injustice of the current law, which punishes fare evasion with risk of arrest and jail for as little as a $2 fare,” Moshiree said.

Furthermore, Bill 22-408 was created particularly after statistics showed that African Americans were disproportionately receiving 91 percent of citations issued for fare evasion.

“With today’s vote, the Council sent a clear message that it is committed to progressive criminal justice reform that dismantles the systemic racial and economic injustice that has only harmed our communities,” the policy director for ACLU D.C. said.

The mayor, on the other hand, argued that decriminalizing fare evasion would be costly on the city and encourage others to dodge metro payment.

According to an earlier AFRO report, metro buses lose about $25 million annually from fare evasion alone.

“I am concerned that [the decriminalization bill] would exacerbate the problem,” Bowser said, according to The Washington Post.

In addition, proponents of the bill felt like the mayor was not considering the social justice implications of her veto.

“Advocating for an enforcement practice that is clearly discriminatory is unjust, and we cannot forsake justice in the name of ‘financial challenges,’” Council member Robert C. White (D- At-large) wrote in a statement after the mayor vetoed the bill.

White was one of the many Council members who stuck to the original vote in support of decriminalizing metro fare evasion.  Council member Trayon White (D- Ward 8) originally introduced the bill and Council member Charles Allen (D- Ward 6) shepherded it through committee and Council votes.

The ACLU thanked them for their commitment to the Bill 22-408.

“We once again extend our deepest gratitude to Councilmember Charles Allen for shepherding this bill in the council, to Councilmember Trayon White for introducing it and to all of the Councilmembers who stood firm in their vote,” Moshiree said.

“We and our more than 50 partners District-wide look forward to working with the Council to make D.C. a more just and equitable place for all District residents.”