By Henry Beasley
We are organizing transit workers and the riding public to March on City Hall August 8, in support for the passage of Oregon House Bill 2677. This proposed law redefines the punishment and modifies manner of committing crime of assault in the third degree against certain public transportation employees
. It also expands classes of persons against whom this crime may be committed, from public transportation vehicle operators in control of or operating vehicle, to any employee of certain transportation districts while employee is acting within scope of employment. Punishment could include a maximum of five years' imprisonment, $125,000 fine, or both.
Since 2010 there have been 542 attacks on Portland transit workers (that we know of). This includes spitting, physical and sexual assaults, menacing, and harassment. We have no data on how many of these attackers pled down to simple misdemeanors or were even caught.
It is not unusual to come across those who have attacked us while doing our assigned transit duties. This can create stress, anxiety or “diminished capacity,” which creates a safety hazard for us and the public. Under these conditions we are tasked with operating equipment safely, without incident.
Transit workers will no longer narrow the scope of abuse by using the word assault, but instead use the phrase “attacks.” The reason for this march is simple, “if laws don’t protect us, they won’t protect you.” It is not uncommon for an assailant to get off one transit vehicle and hop on another. Exclusions do not go into effect until 11 days after issue, so an offender can continue to ride while waiting to appeal an exclusion.
If there were actual consequential deterrents for assailants, maybe it would have prevented repeat offenders such as Jeremy Christian from killing two and wounding another on May 26, 2017. Last year, or the infamous Jared Walter (dubbed “The Trimet Barber”) who received the very first Lifetime Ban, but his offences against female riders’ date back to 2009. The infamous “Queen B” who is not readily known by the media but is well-known by transit workers, who should also receive a lifetime ban. This frequent assailant has committed a multitude of offences, such as assault, menacing, and false claims of sexual harassment. She is a frequent disruptor of service and is known to hop from one bus to another, continuing to abuse workers and passengers.
Transit workers live in the areas that we service; we are your neighbors, relatives, friends, partners, husbands and wives. Most of the riding public do not know that when a transit worker gets abused, it’s their loved ones who are silent victims. Imagine a husband or wife coming home after a physical, or sexual assault. Who then bears the burden of helping them heal? Assailants know the transit worker is a convenient target, and that if we move to defend ourselves, we could be fired. Passengers wonder why bus or rail operators won’t intervene in a disturbance. The answer is surprisingly, simple fear. We’re afraid of losing our jobs or of being beaten. Out of the 542 different attacks that we know this decade, we do not know how many have been attacked more than once. If you see an operator who seems withdrawn, they might be the survivor of an attack.
We do enjoy our jobs serving our fellow Portlanders. Together we all want the same things: a frequent, safe, clean, and reliable transit system. One that our families can safely travel without incident. A system in which we can continue to confidently move this city. We should not have to look over our shoulder and wonder, “am I going to be the next victim?
It is time we move forward together and push our politicians to stand together with us and pass HB 2677. Perhaps we can create an actual deterrent to the unwanted abuse within public transportation.