The Deadly Cost of Racism

March 28, 2012

Washington DC and its surrounding area is home to one of the most racist institutions in the United States. It serves millions per year, including many West Virginians, yet it has a deadly track record.
The entity in question is the Washington DC Metrorail.
A recent Washington Times investigation slammed the service, citing named sources who described a pattern of racism in hiring and promotion that overwhelmingly favors blacks over whites and Hispanics. For example, 97 percent of train operators in the system are black. The union chief, Jackie Jeter, shrugs off the criticism, claiming that most likely, individuals of other races simply did not apply for jobs. She went on to say that, if hired, they can go work “in Southeast,” which is one of the more troubled areas of the District.
The Times said that “the homogeneity, interviews with dozens of current and former Metro workers indicated, is a proxy to a clubby culture of favoritism in which merit has little to do with promotions, and accountability, such as noting safety violations, is a career death knell.”
The report also alleges that engineers who are near PhDs get passed up for promotion by other workers who are “barely literate.” In other cases, individuals were hired or promoted to sensitive positions despite past convictions involving serious drug charges.
All this would form grounds for investigation into claims of discrimination if this was a candy store. But the stakes are much higher and they include life and death.
The Washington subway system has a $124 million budget gap and faces a problem unique among major worldwide systems, diminishing usership. Nevertheless, even as breakdowns become epidemic, it seeks to construct a brand new line to connect DC to Dulles International Airport. Metro is currently holding public hearings to discuss its plan to raise fares, but public input will probably not prevent hikes.
Rising gasoline prices should increase ridership, but the poorly maintained system already has too many breakdowns. The Times report described how safety inspectors routinely passed clearly worn and dangerous equipment, such as brakes.
Metro is clearly sowing the wind, but the whirlwind has already passed through once. In April 2009, a mechanical failure caused a deadly crash on the heavily used Red Line train. As quietly as possible, Metro settled with the families of the victims while only admitting the minimum of wrong. The Times investigation shows clearly that the basic problems of the system lie in the organizational culture.
And this was not fixed.
West Virginia has a stake in this system. Federal taxes go to support it. Mountain State riders rely on it daily. Metro shows quite plainly that racism, no matter color is in charge, breeds inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and lousy service overall because promotion is not based upon the quality of the man or woman’s work or character.
Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, on behalf of the thousands of Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan County constituents who use this service, should call publicly for a Justice Department investigation of the Metro system. Clearly institutional racism is helping to put lives at stake in a crumbling system. It must be cleaned up or more tragedies will come in the future.
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