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Task Force studies chill between teens and MBTA

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Task Force studies chill between teens and MBTA
Hyde Square Task Force Youth Community Organizers Waldy Nova, Sheila Reyes, Pamela Pauling and Deli Tejeda are working on a survey of 700 Boston teens looking at their relationship with MBTA police. The teens say MBTA cops routinely conduct illegal searches of youth. (Photo: Yawu Miller)

When Waldy Nova sees an MBTA cop approaching, he says, several scenarios run through his head.

“I automatically assume I’m going to get talked down to, searched, arrested or kicked out of the station,” he says.

Nova knows his experience is not unique. He knows because he has witnessed numerous altercations between MBTA officers and students. He also knows this because he and his fellow youth organizers at the Hyde Square Task Force have conducted surveys with more than 700 Boston teenagers to assess the relations between the cops and the students.

 The Task Force youths are now compiling their data and expect to release their report next week. While they wouldn’t comment on the data, the teens working on the project said most of the teens they interviewed spoke about harassment, illegal searches and being kicked out of stations.

“Most of us have experienced most of these problems or witnessed them,” said Pamela Pauling, who worked on the survey. “A lot of people get searched for no reason. They get grabbed and thrown up against the wall.”

Each of the four youths interviewed at the Task Force office also shared their own personal stories of instances where they said they either experienced or witnessed police harassment. None of them has ever been arrested.

Deli Tejeda tells of being illegally searched by police officers who said they suspected he was selling drugs. Sheila Reyes was kicked out of Forest Hills Station by a surly officer who accused the group of teens she was with of littering.

“The youth that we work with are always complaining about problems with transit police,” Reyes said.

The Task Force teens say youth relations with the MBTA police are particularly important because most of the high school students in Boston use the public transit system and come into contact with transit police.The experience youth have with MBTA officers is markedly different than what adults experience, according to Nova.

“I’ve never seen an adult being kicked out of a station,” he says.

“Or searched,” adds Pauling.

“Or kicked out of a station,” adds Reyes.

MBTA police officers have jurisdiction over MBTA property and have the full right to arrest anyone engaged in illegal activity on MBTA property.

In the 1990s, the MBTA police engaged in a “zero tolerance” policy against youth on the system, logging as many as 680 arrests a year.

After a series of Banner articles detailing allegations of MBTA police abuse against teens, including numerous arrests of teenagers for trespassing, the agency brought in a new chief, Joseph Carter, who re-assigned many of the officers who were responsible for the arrests and dismantled the Anti Crime Unit — a plainclothes unit that targeted teens.

Under current Chief Paul MacMillan, MBTA police are now making fewer arrests, according to youth advocate Lisa Thurau Gray, who says the agency arrested 84 youth last year.

“I think things have improved tremendously,” she said.

MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said MacMillan was not available for comment. The chief is scheduled to meet with the Task Force youth this week, she said.

The complaints the youth are making are not unique to the MBTA police. Like most black and Latino teens in Boston, the boys at the Task Force each say they are often stopped and searched by Boston Police.

“Wherever I’m at, whenever I see any kind of authority, because of my skin tone I’m going to get searched,” says Tejeda, who is dark-skinned.

The teens say they know the police are not supposed to search them without probable cause.

“Most kids are intimidated into revealing the contents of their bags and pockets,” Tejeda says. “They’re forced to do so illegally. The cops break the rules and don’t get called out on it.”

“I think that’s why some youth act out,” Nova cuts in. “How would you feel if you were in that situation? If it happened to you constantly? Everyone has their breaking point.”

The Task Force teens say their ultimate aim is to improve relations between youths and the MBTA police.

“We want to establish a good relationship,” Nova says. “We want there to be harmony between the police and the people they’re supposed to protect and serve. Youth are as much a part of the community as adults, just as the T officers are a part of the community and have to be treated with respect.”