The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A D.C. author shamed a Metro worker for eating on the train. Now her book deal is in jeopardy.

The backlash was swift, with many accusing the woman, Natasha Tynes, of trying to get the employee fired.

Passengers wait to board a Metro train. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Author Natasha Tynes has ignited a firestorm on social media, where she criticized a black Metro employee for eating on the train and reported the woman to transit officials.

Tynes, a Jordanian American writer and World Bank employee in Washington, tweeted a photo of the woman Friday, showing the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority employee in uniform, eating on the Red Line. Tynes tagged the WMATA account, reporting that when she confronted the woman for breaking Metro rules, the woman replied, “worry about yourself.”

“When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train,” Tynes tweeted. “I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds."

The backlash was swift on social media with some people decrying Tynes’s tweet as racist, calling out the self-described “minority writer” for shaming a black woman and potentially getting her into trouble. Even Tynes’s book distributor took issue with her targeting a woman of color in such a public way.

Amid the uproar, the author apologized, saying she was “truly sorry” for the tweet, which she acknowledged had been deleted.

By early Saturday morning, her Twitter account had been set to private and her personal website appears to be unavailable.

In response to Tynes’s tweet, transit officials asked her for more information and thanked her “for catching this and helping us make sure all Metro employees are held accountable.” Tynes then provided further details, including the time, the train the employee was traveling on and direction that it was headed.

Metro rules ban eating, drinking, smoking and littering on buses or trains and in stations. But it’s common to see riders violating the rules — particularly against drinking beverages.

According to Tynes’s LinkedIn, which now appears to have been disabled, she is a “veteran communications expert” and “social media strategist” with more than two decades’ experience.

Tynes founded the Tynes Media Group and has written for several publications, including pieces for The Washington Post on parenting. Her LinkedIn also stated that she works as a communications officer for the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group based in Washington, D.C.

Tynes did not respond to requests for comment from The Post.

Barry Hobson, the chief of staff for the Metro workers union — Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 — said in a statement that the Metro employee was taking her meal break while in transit from one assignment to another. The statement notes operators have “an average of 20 minutes to consume a meal and get to their next access point to ensure all buses and trains are on time, safe, and ready to serve the riding public.”

Though the union acknowledged it is against Metro rules to eat on a train or in a station, Hobson’s statement also referenced an email from Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik sent May 8, ordering officers to “cease and desist from issuing criminal citations in the District of Columbia for fare evasion; eating; drinking; spitting, and playing musical instruments without headphones until further advised.”

“Understanding this email, our operator clearly was doing no wrong,” the union statement said.

Hobson told The Post on Sunday that the case is still under investigation but that no action has been taken against the employee and the union “will not support any discipline.”

Metro officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In response to the incident, Rare Bird Books, a publishing house that was set to distribute Tynes’s upcoming novel, “They Called Me Wyatt,” has decided not to do so. The book is about a Jordanian student who is murdered and realizes that her “consciousness” has inhabited Wyatt, a 3-year-old boy with speech delays, according to the synopsis.

Rare Bird Books said in a statement Friday that it had learned the author “did something truly horrible today in tweeting a picture of a metro worker eating her breakfast on the train this morning and drawing attention to her employer. Black women face a constant barrage of this kind of inappropriate behavior directed toward them and a constant policing of their bodies.

“We think this is unacceptable and have no desire to be involved with anyone who thinks it’s acceptable to jeopardize a person’s safety and employment in this way.”

The company then urged Tynes’s publisher, California Coldblood Books, to cut ties with the author as well.

“We do not condone her actions and hope Natasha learns from this experience that black women feel the effects of systematic racism the most and that we have to be allies, not oppressors,” California Coldblood said in a statement Friday. By Saturday afternoon, the publisher announced it will postpone the book’s publication date “while we further discuss appropriate next steps to officially cancel” it.

At the same time, people began slamming her book — not even in stores yet — with bad reviews.

“Would you still go ahead and buy a book if you know it was written by a bigot who went out of her way to get an African American lady fired for eating on her way to work?” one reviewer wrote on Goodreads, where “They Called Me Wyatt” had an average rating of 1.43 stars and more than 1,500 reviews. “I asked myself this question, then decided I’d rather give my money to someone more deserving.”

Another said: “Not impressed with the read & even more disgusted with the authors personal actions."

One reviewer said she was removing the stars that she had initially given Tynes’s book. “I support people and give the benefit of the doubt,” she wrote. “But in this case, I will not stand behind someone who purposefully tears others down. And the actions of this author against a civil employee completely fall against my own personal ethics. It’s truly a shame. Being kind takes zero effort, but going out of your way to undermine and jeopardize someone’s livelihood is a low blow.”

Poll: Metro’s reputation is improving, but that doesn’t mean more are riding

However, some have expressed support for Tynes’s actions. The self-described Metro watchdog Twitter account Unsuck DC Metro reposted and pinned (so that it would remain at the top of Web page) the photo of the Metro employee after Tynes deleted her tweet, and left the employee’s face fully visible. The caption read: “Nah.”

“NO one wants to watch you stuff your pie hole. NO one wants to smell your nasty food,” the account tweeted, adding in a reply that it was committed to leaving the photo online and “no one is getting in trouble for this. promise.”

Because of its support of Tynes, Unsuck DC Metro has lost hundreds of followers and been accused of being racist.

Though some social media users agreed that Metro employees should be held accountable for breaking train rules, most argued that Tynes’s “anti-black” complaint was in poor taste, calling her a “snitch” and criticizing her tattling on the woman and threatening her livelihood for something so trivial. Some people also urged Metro to spare the woman’s job.

Others called on Tynes to make it right.

Correction: A previous version of this story linked to the Los Angeles metro rules, rather than WMATA’s. That link has been fixed.

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