Yesterday I signed a petition. There are so many these days. I'm choosy about what I sign. The link from a friend arrived in my inbox not long after I had seen the story reported on the ABC television news.
In July this year a 15 year old girl tried to fare evade by slipping through an open gate at Flinders Street Station. She was physically assaulted by a gang of Metro Trains authorised officers. A bystander filmed the event on his mobile phone and it was reported that a state Member of Parliament requested the security camera footage under Freedom of Information.
You can read the petition and see the footage here.
I signed the petition and also tweeted the link. Nothing unusual in that. What's interesting is the mudslinging that I have received from one person on Twitter.
The person's profile says they are "right leaning" and that they are "passionate about correcting left bias". Consider their response. They ask me whether I watched the video and said that the girl took a swipe first. Well, I say that a 15 year old girl is a child and that a group of adult males carry the responsibility to act appropriately and not over-react.
They then ask me to define "appropriate violence". I thought about this only for a moment - no violence is appropriate.
I believe in responsibility and fairness. People catching public transport have a responsibility to pay the fares. This makes the system fair and sustainable. When people don't fulfill their responsibility, the operators have a responsibility to educate and minimise the amount of fare evasion. Their response in doing this should be fair and proportionate.
The fare evaded could have been anywhere between $1.75 and $5.92, depending on where she had travelled. (I'm assuming she was entitled to a concession.) When I consider this and then see the physical force used against her, I am shocked. This girl's stupidity could have cost her her life or resulted in serious, permanent injury. Yet, I'm told by my twitter troll that I am the one overreacting!
As a regular and committed public transport user, I don't want people to evade fares. I want them to pay. I want the authorised officers who have the unenviable job of dealing with the fare evading public to take an approach that is mature and educational. Instead, we have a disproportionate and violent response by people who get to wear a uniform and carry the word "authorised" in their titles. The perpetrators in question give all their colleagues a bad name and make their job harder.
Interestingly, the people with the power are the ones who get to exercise it. The girl has reportedly been charged with assault while the Metro Trains' investigation has found that the officer "exercised his functions reasonably". I have not read or heard anything about the officers who stood by and facilitated their colleague to assault the girl.
I wonder what they think this girl (and her friends and family) will think of the system and the people operating it now? I'm sure that they will be hostile and are likely to be primed to violence at the earliest hint of an encounter with the Authorised Officers. I shudder to think about the Protective Services Officers who are armed.
There's some good information over at Lawstuff about your rights and the role of various uniformed people involved in public transport.
What do you think? Were the actions of the Officers justified? Am I overreacting?