Civil Rights and Our Trains: Teaching Riders to Behave Civilly!  

ALPERN AT LARGE--In a video that has attracted national attention, a young woman was reportedly arrested for having her shoes on the seat of a Los Angeles Metro subway train.  Except she was NOT arrested for that violation, but for something much more serious: violating civil authority when asked to comply with the law, and for disrespecting reasonable police authority. 

The video is found here, and makes for a good civics lesson, or at least for a good debate on where civil rights end, and civil responsibility begins. 

Years ago, when the fight for a modern, convenient, and comfortable rapid transit system was still in debate in the City and County of Los Angeles, I was involved in a brief "Friends of the Red Line" effort, just as I was with the Expo and Green Lines. 

I followed in the paths of others, and worked with many great volunteers, to help encourage the planning, funding, and construction that is currently ongoing, and for which we are now all paying in our sales and other taxes. 

Accordingly, and understandably, I am one of those who hears the complaints of our trains filled with homeless individuals, misbehaving and scary individuals, and from those who report that too many buses and trains (that we all paid, and are paying, for!) smell like urine or feces. 

In particular, those complaining the loudest are often women, and women in fear of their welfare and that of their children.  As a dedicated husband and father, as well as a transportation advocate, I am therefore one of those who regularly complain about these conditions, who want a police presence, and who is relieved to hear that Metro is taking this much more seriously than in years past. 

It should be emphasized that there is a Metro code of conduct--everything from illegal behavior to food/gum to "manspreading" and anything that would threaten the appearance or convenience of our trains to all riders is worthy of a citation or being thrown off a publicly-funded and shared public properties that are our train and bus fleets. 

Do people need to eat?  Do people need to have better bus shelters, accessible toilets, and other amenities?  Yes.  All these rank up there with "civil rights", and Metro has had mixed reviews but are trying to address these problems. 

But among the reasons for lower Metro ridership--particularly among bus riders--are the conditions that riders must endure, and the lack of convenience that riders must endure, on what is a shared right and responsibility we've all paid for. 

In all fairness, the low cost of gas, Uber/Lyft, and other factors play a role in this ridership, and in all fairness our train ridership is doing very, very well compared to other cities in the nation.  But the ridership experience HAS to be part of any successful rapid transit venture. 

Phil Washington, the Metro CEO who originally complained about the aforementioned arrest, has reportedly backtracked from his original complaint, and it is important for all interested in what happened to WATCH the video (see link above). 

It shows a woman who originally refused to get her feet off the seat when asked to by a police officer, who showed remarkable if not shocking verbal abuse of the police officer when he was merely doing his job, and who refused to leave the train when he was within his rights to ask her to do so when she violated Metro's ridership rules of conduct (yes, they exist!). 

It was within his right to pull her off the train when she refused, and when she kept resisting his legally-authorized requests.  When another woman, who reported being "another Latina" who came to the defense of "her people", also began interfering with the officer (guilty only of doing his job), he called for backup, and both women were arrested when the backup arrived. 

The second woman was shown to spit on an officer, and the backup clearly showed both women and Latino officers who all participated in the duo's arrest. 

Of note are two critical realities that are very easy to overlook: 

1) The person doing the video is a male who is appalled by the arrest, who pleaded with the officer to not make the arrest, but who was never touched or reproached by the officer, because the person making the video was within his rights to legally complain but not verbally assault an officer.  NOTHING happened to the man making the video because he behaved civilly. 

2) At the very end of the video, a black woman (her accents suggests Africa or Jamaica as her place of origin) calmly explained that respecting authority, and learning from her parents that rules apply to us all, would have prevented this event from careening out of control. 

So what is to be learned here? 

1) There are RULES of conduct wherever we go, and they are necessary for a civilized society to exist and thrive.  That includes public trains, which must be kept convenient and clean, and with seats that are open for all to use and without people putting their feet, litter, or other impediments in the way of those wishing to sit. 

2) When an officer asks you reasonably to get your feet off a seat, DO IT! 

3) Don't resist or verbally assault a police officer, who is part of the thin line between civilization and anarchy. 

4) When you thrash the reputation of real civil rights leaders by invoking racial issues, you cheapen the past and present fights for true civil rights for all of us.  Neither of these women were any sort of modern-day Rosa Parks--they were a couple of narcissistic fools who got what they deserve. 

We all want better train service, and we all want civil rights ... but the answer to both lies in the need to behave civilly so that we can all enjoy the fruits of our shared efforts and public investments (like our trains!).


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife. He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)