In today’s edition of “Is it 2018 or 1896,” the D.C. Metro had reportedly been considering providing separate trains for white supremacists who’ll be attending this year’s “Unite the Right” rally next weekend. This is about as full-circle as it gets. Usually, when we’re talking about segregated train cars, it’s in reference to Plessy v. Ferguson – the (essentially overruled and generally hated) post-Reconstruction Supreme Court case that created the absurd “separate but equal” doctrine.
Now, though, things have changed just enough to make segregated train cars an actual proposal for those hoping to minimize klan violence. Trains are still trains, racism is still racism, and apparently, an entire century hasn’t helped. Justice Harlan must be rolling in his grave.
Welp, guess we’ll have a bunch of nazis driving to D.C. next week.https://t.co/RUDwL6oSIA
— Kyle Dargan (@Free_KGD) August 5, 2018
Metro board chairman Jack Evans (also a Democratic D.C. Councilmember for Ward 2) explained about the proposal, “We’re just trying to come up with potential solutions on how to keep everybody safe.” The employees who’d actually have had to carry out such plans, though, weren’t having it. The Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), many of whose members are people of color, said that it refused to play any part in special accommodations given to hate groups:
More than 80% of Local 689’s membership is people of color, the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated. The union has declared that it will not play a role in their special accommodation.
Shortly after ATU’s statement was publicized, Chairman Evans told press that WMATA (the government agency that runs the Metro) was no longer considering providing special cars for rally participants.
— Martine Powers (@martinepowers) August 4, 2018
Certainly, the Metro does bear responsibility to take adequate precautions to plan for the safety of its passengers. Given the violence of the Charlottesville rally – including multiple injuries and the death of a counter-protester – it would be grossly negligent for WMATA to ignore its duty to plan ahead. And as uncomfortable as it feels to even contemplate running separate trains for rally attendees, I know I’d prefer that the klansmen stay off my train car.
Legally-speaking, though, it’s just not that easy. WMATA would need to ensure that any policy it adopts conforms to the law; that means disparate treatment of passengers certainly couldn’t be based on race, but perhaps on the basis of destination or some other relevant characteristic. The balancing of WMATA’s duty to protect passengers from foreseeable dangers and its duty to do so within the parameters of equal protection and other applicable laws is not a simple one.
I oversaw US Dept of Transportation’s Title VI enforcement during the Obama admin and have no doubt it’s a Title VI violation for a transit agency funded by federal dollars to provide special services to a white supremacist hate group.
Call DC Metro! https://t.co/6TsnYHpCPW
— Stephanie Jones (@StephanieJ_DC) August 4, 2018
Furthermore, even a plan that is legal in its design could present both practical and legal difficulties in enforcement. WMATA’s struggles to find the right balance aren’t the only preparations being made for next weekend’s rally; D.C. police and others are also gearing up to be sure that the “good people on both sides” stay safe.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.