Two days ago, Metro recruited day laborers to dig out the subway system. Many more persons showed up than Metro was able to hire, and angry incidents of vandalism resulted. This is an account of what happened by some of those who sought work .
Sam Zachary got the word from Robert Jones who saw it flash across the bottom of his television screen Monday night. Metro was paying $5 an hour for workers to shovel snow from train tracks.
"Five bucks," Jones recalls, thinking to himself, "Five bucks an hour. I can relate to that. Even GS-3s don't make $5 by the hour."
By 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jones and Zachary were outside Metro headquarters at 600 Fifth St. NW, after walking from Southeast Washington to sign up for work. Jones, 21, who is unemployed and does "whatever I can, whenever I can" to make money, and Zachary, an unemployed piano player, found about 200 persons already knocking on the glass doors of the Metro building.
By 6:30 a.m., about 600 persons were waiting for jobs. When the first bus arrived to pick up workers, the crowd stampeded the bus, battling for a ride to a job.
"The police had them standing back," said Quenton Jones, an unemployed 18-year-old in the crowd. "They had pulled out some loudspeakers and told everyone to get in line. But as soon as that first bus came, chaos broke out. It was wild, man. Everybody, girls and old men, running, swinging and pushing to get on that bus."
"People tald about black people being lazy and looking for welfare," said Richard Calhoun, an unemployed father of six who said he has been trying to find work as a laborer. 'That's the first thing they holler. You should have seen all them people down there, most of them young black men. They would have killed you to get on that bus, you hear what Im saying? Those people were out there before the sun came up, looking to bend their back and work...."
Seven buses arrived at Metro headquarters to take workers to Metro maintenance headquarters in Silver Spring. Some buses had to drive away with their doors open because people were hanging from the door, refusing to let go and lose a chance to work.
There were similar scenes at six other stops where workers were being collected. At the Eastern Market Metro stop at Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, a crowd estimated at 500 began pounding on closed doors of parked buses. The crowd then began jeering bus drivers who were surrounded by job seekers and threatened to overturn a full bus. A bus window was broken.
The buses escaped by accelerating their engines and driving slowly through the crowd. The angry crowds milled for a short time and then some people began looting a nearby liquor store.
At the Metro station at Minnesota Avenue and Grant Road NE, about 250 persons ripped down a fence when full buses drove away.
When buses arrived at the Metro maintenance headquarters on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, there was more fighting as about 1,000 persons, who had arrived by bus and foot, tried to sign up for 500 jobs.
"Things got disorderly when we told them we got to chop this off, we've got enough people," said Ralph Smith, Metros' general maintenance director. "We said we'd take a few more, and that started some people griping. They said they'd been on the road since early that morning for several hours and they were ticked off that they didn't get anything after all that effort."
Small fistfights broke out among persons trying to get to the front of the line. Some of the disappointed workers fought with Metro employes. A second-floor wall was kicked in. An adding machine and two typewriters were stolen, and one man was arrested for larceny.
"When they told them they didn't have any more jobs," said Robert Jones, who got a job, "they got rowdy. They figured they had been wronged, so they were going to do what they wanted. They started fighting, stealing anything they could -- typewriters, shovels, you name it. They were going crazy. Some of them were running through the building yelling."
"You know I can understand it," he said. "Nobody came up there to go home without the bucks. They didn't want to have been up early, gone out in that snow and been fighting to get on the bus and then still get nothing.'
"They didn't even have a way to get home. The buses weren't taking them back. See, they were right there. It wasn't like an application where they say they'll call you. Those folks could see that job, they could smell it. They wanted it bad," he said.
Jones and Zachary received shovels and jobs and were asked to return to work for Metro yesterday. They shoveled for 12 hours Tuesday and yesterday were among 150 workers asked back.
The looting and vandalism involving the frustrated job seekers at Metro buildings followed a survey last November by Louis Harris and Associates that indicated that joblessness among blacks is reaching a crisis point.
"What emerges is a clear-cut finding that jobs surely must be viewed as one area where blacks feel most frus. trated, most left out in the cold and where black desperation bids fair to erupt into front-line trouble in the near-term future," the Harris study said.