Homeless people targeted by proposed RTD policies, task force members say

David Heitz

Photo byColin Lloyd/Unsplash

Proposed changes to the RTD code of conduct target people of color and those experiencing homelessness, according to several people who spoke at a recent Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing meeting.

The RTD went almost 50 years without needing a code of conduct, pointed out RTD director Joy Ann Ruscha. Homeless people using Union Station for shelter led to creation of the code in 2016. RTD director Michael Guzman also attended the meeting. He said he is the only person of color on the 15-member RTD board of directors. “I am alone in my experience in how I’ve been treated and how I expect to be treated on a bus. They are not considering this from a colored person’s perspective.”

Guzman said some of the language in the rules seems coded. Coded language appears neutral at first glance (i.e. “at risk”) but can actually refer to minority groups such as people of color and people experiencing homelessness.

New rules affect unhoused

New rules in the code of conduct include:

· Banning the unauthorized use of electrical outlets in transit stations.

· Banning profanity and provocative fighting language.

· Banning lying down on a bench.

· Banning riding a bus or train more than one lap without a destination.

Guzman said the code targets issues “people don’t want to look at” but that are realities.

Burden of proof on accused

Ruscha said the way the code will be enforced is concerning. People accused of a violation will have to prove their innocence. Appeals currently are allowed but could only be “requested” under the new rules.

“This can’t be passed,” said Jesse Lashawn Parris, a write-in candidate for mayor and member of the task force. Parris has experienced homelessness and said he used to ride the bus “for all hours of the night.” He wondered how RTD would enforce banning people. Would there be a “Most Wanted” type of poster?

Ruscha said there used to be but concerns about profiling led to the list being discontinued. She said drivers would enforce the ban by asking customers “What’s your name, where do you live, where are you going, do you have an ID?” She asked Parris, “Does this sound familiar?”

‘Subjective policing’

Joyce Akhahenda, who works for the Colorado Public Defender’s Office, called the proposed code of conduct “surprising.” She said it’s bad enough that the policy targets the unhoused, but that it also leads to subjective policing.

For example, profane language will not be allowed. Akhahenda wondered what will be considered profane by whom and when.

She also expressed concern about a policy for RTD to ban someone not convicted of a crime. “Punishing people without adjudication is a big problem as well.”

Those ‘touring’ not subjected to one-lap rule

Molly McKinley, policy director for the Denver Streets Partnership, said the chief said in a committee meeting that people riding the buses and trains “touring the region” would not be subject to the one-lap rule.

Brandy Majors said the code of conduct has a glaring omission – no rules or accountability for racist officers. Majors, who uses a power scooter, also said her vehicle has run out of power at Union Station and there has been no place to plug it in. “There are people who actually use those plugs,” Majors said of the now-covered sockets.

Ruscha and Guzman said RTD officials plan to host several community outreach meetings in the weeks ahead. The new policy is expected to go into effect in June.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at NewsBreakDave@gmail.com

Denver, CO

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