The Sum Of All Inchoate Fears: The Mass Transit Edition

Whenever well-off and/or well-educated people get snooty about how their lessers are ignorant, it’s always worth remembering that there are plenty of instances where the Good People happen to Know Things That Are Not True™. One example is the notion that the U.S. educational system is failing, even as test scores have been slowly, but steadily rising for all demographic groups.

Which brings us to this heart-warming mass transit-related tale from Anne Arundel County, MD (boldface mine):

The Hahns had moved to the working/middle-class suburb seeking a quiet, safe environment away from the crime and strife of Baltimore, 10 miles away. But, like many in the neighbourhood, they say the city’s woes have seeped into the area via public transport. Specifically, they believe criminals are coming into the suburbs by light rail.

Data does not bear that out, but that hasn’t stopped some residents from campaigning for the service, which started 25 years ago, to be reduced. The Hahns have just returned from a protest demanding the closure of a light rail stop around the corner from their home – a stop activists have linked to an increase in crime in the area.

“Looking at his rap sheet or whatever, he was from Baltimore city,” Kim said of the intruder. “He missed the light rail and had to find a place to stay, and he chose to climb our fence.”

The Anne Arundel county police confirmed the details of the Hahns’ report, but with two important discrepancies: there was nothing to link the suspect with the light rail and he wasn’t from Baltimore – he was local.

He hadn’t missed the light rail back to the city that night. He was from Anne Arundel county, just like the Hahns.

…However, organisers from the recently founded Greater FernGlen Community Association, which rallies against the service to light rail stops in northern Anne Arundel county, were not deterred. “We knew fighting this unsafe light rail was going to be a battle and believe me the battle has just begun,” the group posted on Facebook, urging its few hundred followers to renew their efforts to document area crime. “Don’t give up … We can and will beat them on this one too.”

Among them were the Hahns and state senate candidate John Grasso, whose previous comments about the light rail’s “drug addicts, crooks, thieves” have led to comparisons from the Baltimore Sun with Trump’s inflammatory remarks about Mexican “rapists”.

“I am by no means saying … that everyone on that light rail is no good,” Grasso told the assembled crowd. “What I’m saying is there’s a few that aren’t any good.”

… It’s not just crimes allegedly committed by passengers on board the trains that campaigners are worried about; of even greater concern are those committed after alighting. Rising drug use is of particular concern, with Anne Arundel hard hit by the nationwide opioid epidemic – and Glen Burnie in particular suffering disproportionate heroin fatalities.

..Addressing the rally, state attorney Wes Adams, whose brother-in-law died of an overdose, said “the bulk” of opioid overdoses in recent years had occurred on a corridor from Glen Burnie stretching roughly along the route of the light rail. The police department is sceptical of this, pointing Guardian Cities to a map showing overdoses all over the county, but activists are convinced. “They are coming down here and bringing, I don’t want to say the thugs – but it is the thugs,” local resident Vanessa Watson told Guardian Cities.

…As well as the spreading opioid epidemic all manner of crimes and complaints were held up as reasons for the light rail service to be reduced. “I’m not against public transportation, but these light rail stops … I have been aggressively panhandled,” Patty Ewing, a local delegate candidate, told the crowd.

Standing at the microphone, resident Joe Whitmer spoke of an attempted robbery last year at a bank near the light rail stop where his daughter worked at the time. And a neighbour of the Hahns said a stranger had wandered into his house when his young child was home alone. “My 12-year-old daughter calls me and I’m not there for her, and there’s a guy all looped out in my living room,” he told the crowd, choking up.

But media reports didn’t specify whether the suspect Whitmer mentioned rode in on light rail. Moreover, whether the suspect had come by light rail or not, police data shows “breaking or entering” to be on the decline countywide. …

It is true that the light rail is at the heart of residents’ fears – some benign or familiar, of change or a perceived downturn; others less so. Either way, they are not easily dismissed.

These resident know people are traveling to their community to commit crime–and, of course, those people are from the city, the dirty, crime-laden city, not from their own town. Of course the drug problem–which is hitting communities nation-wide–is coming from somewhere else: people like them, who live near them, couldn’t possibly be using drugs! Or committing crimes!

There is, as you might expected, a price for this Othering:

Joseph Piazzola, 35, was among the few present in opposition. He served in the US army reserve until 2015, when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “I have cancer and my nurse comes on the light rail to take care of me,” Piazzola shouted at one point.

“Out of order,” responded Smith at the microphone. The crowd cheered.

Later, speaking on the phone, Piazzola’s medical assistant, Diane Gatewood-Bey, 65, was so touched by his dissent, she began to cry. “I’m so afraid it’s going to close,” she said of the light rail. “[Not] everybody’s … gifted to have a car or a ride to get to and from work.

That’s why public transportation is here – not to drive crime into the counties, to get people to work.”

When you feel the need to shout down someone with cancer trying to stay alive, you might have succumbed to your fears, even the inchoate ones.

It should be noted that, while these claims have been around for a long time, the conservative Koch brothers have been funding related campaigns across the country (boldface mine):

As the election draws near, Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity Tennessee and a swarm of opposition groups funded by dark money have mounted a vicious disinformation campaign to prevent the [Nashville] proposal from passing, undermining years of public consensus building…

In another display of absolute shamelessness, the same group posted on Facebook that approving the transit referendum would “bring crime” like the Waffle House shooting, in which four people of color were killed by a 29-year-old white man with an AR-15. According to the Tennessean, the shooter arrived by truck.

That last sentence seems familiar. Thankfully, we don’t have a global warming crisis requiring less automobile use.

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5 Responses to The Sum Of All Inchoate Fears: The Mass Transit Edition

  1. Bill says:

    Sounds like Cobb County and all “those people” from Atlanta in Marta. Which is why they now have a traffic nightmare. Of course that was Gingrich’s district.

  2. plch says:

    Wow! here people living in the outskirts of the city always lament the lack of public transport… but, as you know, in Europe cities are structured differently and downtown is where the rich live.

  3. Bob Michaelson says:

    Thirty years ago, on hearing that some kids had been shot in a Winnetka, IL elementary school, a woman in the local public library started ranting that it was the fault of the public transit that went from Chicago to the suburbs. But in fact the perp wasn’t from Chicago, it was a local, mentally unstable woman named Laurie Dann.

  4. This is so Buffalo! When they planned the light rail/subway system, it was supposed to go all the way out to the SUNY campus in Amherst, with stops along the way in the town of Amherst. The giant dorm, Ellicott Complex (where I lived in 1978/79, so this was a long time ago) was planned with the idea that a light rail train would be arriving at the base of the building. BUT NO. The people of the town of Amherst said that a light rail system would “promote crime” because criminals would be taking the train to and from Amherst. We’re talking FORTY YEARS AGO.

    And everywhere the train might have gone … with existing tracks that were still in place until the mid-to-late 1980’s … got the same treatment from the suburbs. So we have a light rail/subway system that goes from the edge of Buffalo to the downtown business/entertainment area and that is it. The tracks that could have been used to expand the rail have been removed, as have the wooden rails. Amazing how track rails became so chic in the late 1980’s – early 1990’s as gardening additions & patio props. Someone made a LOT of money from that deal.

    Of course, the bus system has been starved to the point where many of us walk almost everywhere.

    I often think about what this area would be like if it had a true light rail system … connecting Buffalo & Niagara Falls (wouldn’t that be perfect for tourism?) … & all the surrounding towns, way into the suburbs. I can’t help but think that this would be a much nicer place to live & work.

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