Newark, N.J., police repression of fare evaders

Newark, N.J. protest, 2011.

Newark is the largest city in New Jersey, with most of the population being Black and Latinx. Many of the residents are immigrants, including those who are undocumented. Even in light of recent attempts to “revitalize” this city, which was hit by white flight after the 1967 Black rebellion, and despite being dubbed “the next Brooklyn” by the bourgeois media, nearly half of the city’s population lives below the poverty line, according to a 2013 study by the Legal Services of New Jersey.

Essex County, where Newark is located, has 14.7 percent of the state’s homeless population according to a 2016 Monarch Housing Associates’ report; yet luxury condos continue to be built. Although hundreds of thousands of people commute to Newark daily for work, 6.6 percent of Newark’s residents remain unemployed.

The Newark Light Rail is used by commuters and residents alike. Riders walk onto the train after purchasing a $1.60 ticket, which is time-stamped as proof of payment. A few times a month, police officers stand on the train platforms checking tickets as passengers exit.

For somebody who is poor, even $1.60 could affect their ability to put food on the table or pay bills on time. If the police rarely check for tickets, why pay every time?

As somebody who has fare evaded in the past for being unable to pay, I decided to just hop on the train one day simply because I was in a rush. The police happened to be checking tickets. Desperate to avoid paying any fines, I showed them an old ticket with an unclear time stamp, hoping they wouldn’t scrutinize it too closely.

The police ordered me to show ID, although I hadn’t committed an actual crime. They never told me whether I was being detained or under arrest. I said I did not have any ID, and they took down my name and address. They then asked for my student ID, and I gave it.

Since I refused to answer any questions, a Latinx cop started speaking to me in Spanish, even though I clearly understand English! They weren’t satisfied with the school ID, so they said they were going to search my bag for another ID. I refused to let them search without a warrant, but I gave them my ID anyway so they would stop harassing me. They asked for my social security number but I refused, as they had no right to ask for it.

The cops told me they would have let me go had I been compliant. But why should I have to comply with a bullshit law that punishes people for not having $1.60? Why do I have to comply with having my rights violated and being unlawfully searched? Imagine if they had asked an undocumented person for their social security number.

Fare evaders are not criminals

Not everybody is aware that they have the right to refuse to answer questions from the police. The police could be using people’s social security numbers to check their immigration status. This could lead to people being deported, all over a train ride.

I ended up eventually being hit with one charge, which carries a fine, and I have to appear in court.

Nobody should have to pay hundreds of dollars over a train ticket. A person who is unable to pay for a train ticket certainly can’t pay that hefty fine. How can someone who can’t even afford transportation get to court? It could also mean missing a day of work.

The police are more concerned with protecting capital than they are with protecting the people. The police kill Black and Brown folks daily with impunity, and deliberately target immigrants, which could lead to their deportation. While killer cops face no punishment, people are being punished over failing to pay a couple of dollars for something that should be free!

The people of Newark, and of every city around the world, deserve access to reliable, quality transportation, housing, food, education and health care. We don’t need excessive policing in our communities.

We don’t need more luxury condos being built that nobody can afford, while thousands remain homeless. We don’t need more expensive restaurants opening up in gentrifying communities, while people in poor communities only have access to foods from the corner store.

The police are only trying to trap people to make arrests; they are not concerned with the poverty that plagues many Black and Brown communities.