— Tone Oliver (@ToneOliver) November 8, 2019
The man was just trying to eat a sandwich on his way to work in the morning. But a transit police officer didn’t like that.
Video of the incident last week went viral across social media. The internet did the rare thing of collectively agreeing upon something: Steven Foster was treated outrageously. There is a law in the California Penal Code which prohibits “[e]ating or drinking in or on a system facility or vehicle in areas where those activities are prohibited by that system,” but the law itself is arguably vague and, Californians note, almost never enforced.
Foster believes he was targeted by McCormick because he is black, and he’s not the only one (#EatingWhileBlack promptly trended on social media). The officer involved is white.
“My first political awakening was back at a lunch counter in the ’60s, now we’re back to ‘eat-ins,” Oakland resident John Reimann told local ABC affiliate KGO-TV during one of several recent protests in support of Foster and against enforcement of the no-eating law.
“To see yet another young black man impacted by law enforcement like this is extremely troubling to me,” BART Board of Directors representative for San Francisco Janice Li, who also attended the protest with a box of pastries. “This is a question of what we are putting our BART police towards. We know how to make the system better and safer, and this ain’t it.”
Here’s how the incident unfolded.
“You came up here and fucked with me. You singled me out–out of all these people,” Foster told the sunglasses-wearing officer identified as D. McCormick on his badge.
“You’re eating,” Officer McCormick said, pointing at Foster’s sandwich.
“So what?” Foster replied.
“It’s against the law,” McCormick said.
“So, what?” Foster affirmed.
The two went back-and-forth for quite some time. Foster refused to provide identification when asked to do so. The officer refused to let go of Foster’s backpack when asked to do so. Later on, the officer threatened to arrest Foster for resisting arrest.
“It’s a violation of California law. I have the right to detain you,” McCormick said.
“No, you don’t,” Foster insisted.
“Yes, I do,” McCormick replied.
“Can you please let my backpack go?” Foster asked.
“Are you going to cooperate?” McCormick inquired.
“Will you cooperate and leave me the fuck alone?” Foster half-mimicked..
Then McCormick threatened: “You’re going to jail.”
An astonished Foster replied: “For eating a fucking sandwich?”
“No, for resisting arrest,” McCormick claimed.
“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Foster repeatedly told the obstinate transit officer.
“You can argue that to the judge,” McCormick shrugged.
Eventually three additional officers arrived to deal with the threat Foster apparently posed to law and order on the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) platform in Contra Costa Centre, California.
Foster was later handcuffed, ticketed and eventually provided his identification to the arriving officers.
BART General Manager Bob Powers released the following somewhat apologetic statement on Monday afternoon:
Moving 415,000 riders each day comes with complexities and there are laws in place to keep our system safe, welcoming, and clean.
I’ve seen the video of the incident involving a man eating on our platform and our police response. Eating in the paid area is banned and there are multiple signs inside every station saying as much. As a transportation system our concern with eating is related to the cleanliness of our stations and system. This was not the case in the incident at Pleasant Hill station on Monday.
The officer asked the rider not to eat while passing by on another call. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation. The individual refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out the entire engagement.
The officer was doing his job but context is key. Enforcement of infractions such as eating and drinking inside our paid area should not be used to prevent us from delivering on our mission to provide safe, reliable, and clean transportation. We have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.
I’m disappointed how the situation unfolded. I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video.
I’ve spoken to our interim Police Chief about my feelings related to this incident and our Independent Police Auditor is conducting an independent investigation. He will report his findings to our Citizen Review Board.
[image via screengrab/Nicole Hernandez/ABC 7]