Metro is considering providing separate trains for participants of the “Unite the Right” white-nationalist rally Aug. 12, board chairman Jack Evans said Friday.
Evans said the move would be an effort to prevent violence between rally participants and counterprotesters.
“We haven’t made any decisions about anything,” Evans said about conversations he has had with Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham. “We’re just trying to come up with potential solutions on how to keep everybody safe.”
The event is being organized by the white supremacist group behind last summer’s rally in Charlottesville that led to protests, violent clashes and the death of a counterprotester. In addition, two Virginia state troopers conducting surveillance of the event were killed when their helicopter crashed.
The permit request submitted by organizers bills this month’s event as a “white civil rights” rally in Lafayette Square “protesting civil rights abuse in Charlottesville.”
Evans, who is also a Democratic D.C. Council member representing Ward 2, said officials are concerned that tensions resulting from the event could result in physical clashes between rally attendees and those who could come out in droves to protest their presence.
Among the potential scenarios to help head off violence, Evans said: Rally participants could gather at East Falls Church Metro station, board special cars on a train to Foggy Bottom and then receive a police escort to the rally.
Evans said he and Wiedefeld acknowledge the logistical difficulties of such a plan. How would they be able to enforce a separation between “Unite the Right” participants and counterprotesters? What happens if members of the union representing train operators and station managers refuse to operate a train designated for white supremacists?
And perhaps most important, what kind of precedent would this set for future protests and political events in the District that cause tension and pose a threat of violence?
“We’re not trying to give anyone special treatment,” Evans said. “We’re just trying to avoid scuffles and things of that nature.”
Evans said officials also are considering simply allowing anyone to use any train they want, and increase the police presence on the trains.
“Frankly, we don’t know who’s coming, how many people we’re expecting for this thing, and whether it’s actually going to happen at all,” Evans said. “We’re trying to prepare.”
He said the plans for police response to the rally are unlikely to be finalized until the day before the event.
“As we do for all events of this nature, Metro is working collaboratively with law enforcement to ensure safe travel for our customers and employees,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
“Transit Police are engaged in ongoing discussions with MPD, the lead agency for the Aug. 12 event, as well as Virginia State Police and others as to how to keep everyone safe on that day,” Stessel said in an email. “While details of the plan are security sensitive at this stage, I can tell you that it has not been finalized.”
Plans for the special trains were first publicized by Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which released a statement expressing outrage at the idea that Metro would provide “private” rail cars to “Unite the Right” participants.
“Sources have shared with ATU Local 689 that a hate group with Ku Klux Klan affiliation will be provided three private Metro rail cars and police escort to Foggy Bottom Metro Station for the ‘Unite the Right’ 2018 rally,” the union said in its statement.
ATU Local 689 President Jackie Jeter said that members of the union, the majority of whom are people of color, “draw the line” at providing special service for supporters of a group that espouses white nationalism.
“Local 689 is proud to provide transit to everyone for the many events we have in D.C. including the March of Life, the Women’s March and Black Lives Matters,” Jeter said. “We draw the line at giving special accommodation to hate groups and hate speech.”
Jeter also cited a recent legal case in which a court affirmed Metro’s decision to ban “controversial” advertisements from the bus and subway system. Jeter’s statement suggested that she believes Metro should use the same standard when determining whose specialized transit needs to accommodate.
“Considering that the courts granted Metro the ability to deny ads on buses and trains that are ‘issue-oriented,’ we find it hypocritical for [Wiedefeld] to make these unprecedented special accommodations for a hate group,” Jeter said.
“More than 80% of Local 689’s membership is people of color, the very people that the Ku Klux Klan and other white nationalist groups have killed, harassed and violated. The union has declared that it will not play a role in their special accommodation,” the union’s statement said.