Do Better, COTA
On June 2nd, 2020, footage circulated on Twitter of Columbus Police Department (CPD) staff riding on a Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) bus as part of a convoy of police vehicles after dark. Local residents and activists began to demand answers about COTA’s role in the police’s response to local protests. The next day, COTA issued a statement responding to the video footage. The statement, found in full here, is an inadequate and insincere expression of support for people in the streets fighting for an end to racism and police violence.
COTA’s statement blames concerned activists, parents, and community members for creating “confusion and hurt” when questioning COTA’s role in policing.
COTA’s primary defense against claims of collaboration with CPD hinge on the fact that COTA is not transporting detainees, just the police. While COTA is not involved in prisoner transport (yet), it is definitely involved in policing actions seeing as how… COTA infrastructure…. takes police… from place to place… where the police then…. take action…. against people… protesting in service of black liberation. If that’s not being involved in a police action then someone please gift me a copy of Webster’s dictionary this holiday season because I’ve lost my grasp on the basics of language! Every dollar and hour of labor CPD saves through use of COTA infrastructure is another dollar and hour of labor CPD can redirect towards terrorizing protesters and people of color in Columbus.
COTA’s statement demonstrates the wide gap between the system’s ridership and corporate leadership.
Imagine that COTA is the only way that you have to move around Columbus. Now imagine that, for the many black families who must use COTA, word is circulating that COTA buses are being used by CPD. Imagine the fear- every time a bus pulls up- are there cops already on the bus? Will we be picking cops up on the way to where I’m going? Will I be stranded with my children and a week’s worth of groceries because the police decide that they want to commandeer the bus I’m riding? No one should have to worry about becoming a victim of police violence on an essential service like COTA. By maintaining a partnership with CPD at all, COTA is prioritizing the needs of CPD above its own riders.
COTA’s statement shifts accountability for its policies away from itself.
The only explanation that COTA gives for CPD’s use of its infrastructure is the emergency declaration and a ‘longstanding agreement’ between COTA, CPD, and other emergency management agencies. Did no one at COTA consider the legitimacy of the emergency? Can COTA even define the emergency? The only emergency in this city is an abusive police department acting to protect the imaginations and pocket books of white people. COTA claims to be committed to dismantling racism but acts like an agency with ill defined obligations to CPD and a leadership team trying to pin the blame for their policies on external forces. COTA spits in the face of its ridership by claiming to have been hurt by the accusations of collaboration with police and the community’s demands for accountability. The only hurt parties in this situation are the protesters arrested and injured by the cops, some of whom used COTA’s infrastructure to get where they wanted to be.
To the bus drivers and other employees of COTA: THANK YOU. You have maintained a robust transit system in the face of a pandemic while under leadership that either does not understand or does not care about the vital role that transit plays in so many people’s lives. The riders of COTA and residents of this city (protesters and otherwise) deserve a transit agency which stands up for justice rather than issuing statements that deflect responsibility, project blame, and gaslight the community. After a transit system redesign that shunted poor folks and people of color from High Street in 2017 and an attempt to raise fares in 2018, the residents of this community know where the loyalties of COTA leadership reside and it is not with COTA riders. Let’s call this statement what it is: a desperate attempt for the executives and board members that control COTA to create a story about their commitment to justice so that they can still see themselves as people who are part of the solution.