How far would you be willing to go to reduce litter on public transportation? In the state of California, law enforcement is willing to handcuff a man for the crime of eating a sandwich.
According to KGO-TV in the Bay Area, 31-year-old Steve Foster was handcuffed and detained Nov. 4 on an open-air platform at the Pleasant Hill station in Walnut Creek, California.
A cop putting a man in handcuffs for eating a sandwich would have been business as usual, sadly — except, in the cell phone age, the whole thing was recorded and ended up inflicting a massive black eye on the Bay Area Rapid Transit public transportation system, not to mention California’s profoundly excessive nanny state laws.
In the interaction with the police officer — identified only as D. McCormick — Foster expressed disbelief that he was targeted for enforcement.
“You singled me out, out of all these people,” Foster said to McCormick.
“You’re eating. It’s against the law,” the officer replied.
”So what?” Foster responded.
KPIX reported Officer McCormick went to the platform to look for a woman who was reportedly drunk and causing a disturbance, when he noticed Foster eating on the platform.
There’s something called “selective enforcement,” something which our law enforcement readers will no doubt be familiar with. California’s law — which punishes people for eating on train platforms with a $250 fine or 48 hours of community service, according to the Washington Examiner — is patently ridiculous.
It’s the kind of thing that’s best ignored, the sort of thing that’s not worth a police officer’s time. At worst, it’s the kind of thing that should merit a ticket, no matter how truculent the eater in question is being.
This is California, though, so this isn’t how this ended. McCormick held Foster while another officer put him in handcuffs, in spite of protestations from bystanders. One of them pointed out that there were no signs on the platform informing commuters that eating on the platform was illegal.
All of this may be true, but we all know California needs that sweet, sweet $250.
Here’s the interaction:
“It’s a violation of California law. I have the right to detain you,” McCormick said, “You’re going to jail.”
“For eating a f—ing sandwich?” Foster replied.
Yes, for eating a sandwich. That’s where California is right now.
“It would have been simpler if he would have come up to me and said hey, you can’t eat on BART nor on the platform. I should have been informed because I didn’t know I couldn’t eat on the platform,” Foster told KGO.
A statement from BART, however, says the officer did warn him.
“When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation,” the statement read.
Foster said that didn’t happen.
“He never walked past me, I was at the end of the platform so it was impossible for him to walk past me. He just came straight to me from the escalator like I watched him come up the escalator and make a bee line straight to me,” Foster said.
The video was taken by Foster’s girlfriend, Nicole Hernandez.
“When he was grabbing him, like four, I don’t know if it was four or six officers who came running up about a sandwich, I was nervous,” she told KGO. “When they turned him around and grabbed him and put him in handcuffs, I was nervous.”
Foster admitted that after the officer asked for his ID and grabbed his bag, he used homophobic slurs and cursed at the officer. That’s uncalled for. But then, so is the entirety of this interaction.
The incident has now spurred protests and complaints that people of color are being targeted by law enforcement — a reaction which is predictable, given that we’re dealing with California, but which completely misses the point.
This is a law that simply shouldn’t exist in its current form.
Then again, its not like there aren’t plenty of needless laws on the books in California.
Though the officer stated numerous times that Foster was “under arrest,” and “going to jail,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Foster “was not arrested. He was cited for eating, which is a violation of state law.”
She added that he was also handcuffed after refusing to give his name several times. This is all meant to make things sound better — and yet, the law shouldn’t exist in its current format nor should Foster have had to give his name in the first place.
BART general manager Bob Powers apologized for the interaction and, again, managed to miss the point entirely.
“The officer was doing his job but context is key,” his statement read. “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.”
The problem isn’t the police officer or the context of the incident.
He was, and it pains me to say this, doing his job. Perhaps he should have exercised a bit of selective enforcement, but he was still simply enforcing a law that’s already on the books.
The problem is the law that led to the man being handcuffed.
If Foster was littering, fine. There was no evidence of this.
What there’s evidence of is a law that needn’t have been enforced and a mentality toward enforcement of minor crimes in California that needs to change — like so much else in the state.
All I have to say is, thank goodness this guy wasn’t using a plastic straw.
That might have required a SWAT team.
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