Kevin Sutherland

Kevin Sutherland was killed on Metro on July 4. (Facebook Photo)

On July 4, Kevin Sutherland, an intern in for U.S. Rep. Jim Hines (D-Conn.), was stabbed to death after resisting a robbery attempt on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Agency’s (Metro) Red Line train. The incident was preceded by a June 7 incident, captured on video that went viral, where an older man savagely assaulted a younger man on a Metro Green Line train.

These incidents, plus the death of Carol Glover of Alexandria, Va., on a Jan. 12 train leaving the L’Enfant Plaza Station bound for Virginia on the Yellow Line, has some Metro riders nervous about the system. D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), who represents the District on Metro’s board of directors, insisted that the system is fine. “Yes, Metro is safe,” Evans told the AFRO on July 14. “We have had a few high-profile events recently but those are few and far between.”

As of June 2015, Metro reported 724 crimes, including aggravated assault, arson, robbery and vehicle theft. The year prior, 717 crimes were reported.

Metro operates six lines that are labeled by color: the aforementioned Red, Green, and Yellow along with Blue, Orange, and Silver. These lines are manned by trains that go, in some instances, through the District to Prince George’s and Montgomery County in Maryland and in Northern Virginia as far as Springfield, Vienna, and the Tyson Corner area near the Dulles Toll Road. Metro also operates a bus service that runs along fixed routes and a service for the elderly and handicapped customers known as MetroAccess.

According to data from the American Public Transportation Association’s 2014 ridership report, Metro is the second busiest rapid transit system in the country next to New York City’s Metro, carrying 271,160,000 annually and 829,200 people daily. 

Metro rarely has incidents that cause death and when it does it becomes national news. That was the case on June 22, 2009 when eight passengers were killed and 80 injured on the Red Line crash that was caused, according to an investigation by Metro officials and the National Transportation Safety Board, by a faulty track circuit.

When the AFRO contacted Metro for comment, its communications staff sent a link to its website providing information about what passengers should do to be safe in the system.

Brenda Jones, is a community activist in Ward 8, said she doesn’t use Metro, but has heard plenty about the problems customers have with the system. “I hear that some bus lines are safe and some bus lines aren’t safe,” Jones said. “People in Ward 8 like the fact that buses run frequently.”

Jones has heard that some bus lines in other parts of the city aren’t safe. Even though she said she thinks the death of Sutherland on the Metrorail is tragic, violent crime in the city occurs in other places than just the Metro. “I think that was terrible but so many other people have been stabbed and they weren’t on the Metro,” she said.

Jones said the key to Metro’s safety is to have a stronger police presence. “I think that there should be more plainclothes officers on the subway (Metrorail) and on the buses,” she said. “I do know that fights sometimes take place not just in eastern Washington stations but all over the place and the officers need to be there to protect people.”

Juan Thompson, who works for D.C. Council member David Grosso (I-At Large), rides the Metrorail frequently. He boards the Potomac Avenue Station on the Blue, Orange, and Silver Lines and goes west to the Federal Triangle Station on a regular basis.

Thompson said he isn’t afraid of Metro but he knows where to go and what not to do to be safe. “Inside the Metro system, on the subway, I feel safe,” Thompson said. “Outside the subway, I don’t feel as safe.”

Thompson said the stations need to improve their lighting and, agrees with Jones, that more police officers are needed. “There are not enough public safety officers and the system needs more video cameras so that station managers can see what is going on,” he said.