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Jeffrey Tumlin: our buses aren't jails
This is an open letter from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) employees regarding the events of July 8th, 2023 at the annual Dolores Park Hill Bomb, where Muni buses were used by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to transport detained teenagers to SFPD’s Mission Station.
Dear Jeffrey Tumlin & SFMTA leadership, This is an open letter from San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) employees regarding the events of July 8th, 2023 at the annual Dolores Park Hill Bomb, where Muni buses were used by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to transport detained teenagers to SFPD’s Mission Station. We are writing to document and express our disappointment in and concerns about the SFMTA’s role in SFPD’s response to this event. We believe our Agency’s alignment with riot-gear-clad police officers to suppress young San Franciscans in public space is contrary to the SFMTA’s stated goals and hinders staff’s ability to serve the public. Over the past several years the SFMTA has taken steps to better serve and connect with young San Franciscans. Programs like Free Muni for All Youth, the Muni Transit Assistance Program, and the Youth Transportation Advisory Board represent commitments by Agency staff to improve relationships with and safety for youth riders. Concurrently with these affirmative programs, young people, especially marginalized young people, have expressed time and again that the police do not make them feel safe. SFMTA’s participation in an SFPD operation that actively targeted young people is antithetical to those commitments and undermines those efforts. The use of Muni buses to carry out punitive police action is contrary to what young San Franciscans have told us they need and erodes the already tenuous feelings of trust and safety young people have towards taking transit, using the streets, and interfacing with Agency staff. On June 9, 2020, the SFMTA tweeted a pledge not to bus police to protests against police violence. While the SFMTA’s participation in the armed SFPD response to the Dolores Park Hill Bomb didn’t technically violate our pledge, it did reveal the inadequacy of such an intentionally narrow pledge. Across both of these instances, leaderships’ decision to redirect SFMTA resources to enable violent repression remains the central issue. In this light, it is no surprise that the issue of distrust arises time and again from marginalized constituents (1). It is critical that the SFMTA take immediate steps to take responsibility for its role in the harm done to the residents of San Francisco on July 8th and prevent the further weaponization of our public transit system. We, members of SFMTA staff, demand the following actions by SFMTA leadership: 1. Sponsor an investigation and publicly-available report documenting the SFMTA’s rationale for participating in this violent SFPD operation that outlines the decision-making process and why leadership decided to divert SFMTA resources. 2. Release a strengthened statement of commitment that Muni buses will not be used in the future to transport people detained by the police. 3. Develop an implementation and permitting plan for future Dolores Park Hill Bomb events that are safe, inclusive, and free from interruption by police. The SFMTA is the body that permits and oversees events on the streets of San Francisco. Following the Agency’s stated equity priorities, we are calling on leadership to fulfill their responsibility to safely meet the needs of all users and modes. The SFMTA must take ownership of the harms caused on July 8th. This must be an opportunity to work towards remediating historical and present injustices perpetuated by the SFMTA.