Fruitvale Station: A New Narrative

A commander of San Francisco Transit police told students his experience with racism in law enforcement and how it can be brought to an end in the future during last Thursday’s second installment of “New Narratives: Conversations on Race & Culture” in the Cross Cultural Center’s Dr. White Room.

Chief Kenton W. Rainey, the fifth Chief of Police for the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), shared with students his experiences with institutional discrimination within law enforcement, including the Fruitvale Station incident.

Jasmine Gutierrez | Photography Intern

Jasmine Gutierrez | Photography Intern

“Police are the people and the people are the police,” he said after mentioning his support for community policing in law enforcement.

Rainey, an African American, dreamed of becoming a Chicago police officer since he was in theseventh grade. There were police departments near his area in Southside Chicago who interacted with the children through recreational activities. As a child of the 1960s, he witnessed the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and the members of the Black Panther Party.  However, it was the 1968 Democratic Convention where the police crushed protestors that took a toll on Rainey. This was a turning point for him as he realized that there aren’t enough people of color represented in the law enforcement.

Rainey admits that he himself was a victim of institutional discrimination when he worked for the Ventura County Police Department. In 1992, he and eleven other African American officers filed a class-action lawsuit against the department for institutional racism. They claimed that racist jokes were being passed on over the service radio while black officers were effectively being prevented from top ranks. Rainey also explained how he wasn’t welcomed when he was first hired for the job. The group won this case and each officer received $50,000.

Rainey later worked for the Dayton Ohio Police Department but later decided to return to California where he earned his B.A in criminal justice at the California State University Long Beach to advance his career.

“The quality of life begins with public safety,” he emphasized. Despite that he was the chief of police for the Fairfield Police Department, Rainey resigned as their value system did not match his and became the chief of the BART Police Department

On January 1, 2009 a man named Oscar Grant was resisting arrest while a BART police officer tried restraining him by kneeling on his neck. The officer had the intention to tase Oscar Grant, but instead drew his gun and shot the 22-year-old on his back. This incident became known as the Fruitvale incident and happened shortly after Rainey became the BART’s new chief police. The department drew much criticism after the incident and it was publicized as another case of racial discrimination resulting in the death of an African American man.

Chief Rainey has publicly apologized for the incident and asked Grant’s family for forgiveness. Till this day he is in contact with them. The incident is very dear and sensitive to his heart as one of his officers killed their son.

Rainey believes that incidents like Fruitvale Station can be prevented. He has emphasized how civilians must stay informed and engaged. They are responsible to vote for the mayor who appoints the police chief whose value system will influence the department.

“If you don’t understand something, it is your responsibility to file a complaint,” he added. He promises a new plan indicating the service and necessary support for the community and to lead organizational change. BART police officers receive forty hours of training every year which also involves community outreach. “It’s all about repetition,” Rainey said.

The interaction between law officers and the citizens is an important aspect of this change. This process may change peoples’ perception of the BART police officer and thus stabilize public trust, however Rainey warns there may be tough times ahead nonetheless.  “If you can’t go to the lion’s den and face your critics, then you can’t do your job,” Rainey said.

Rainey promised a new organization and a new culture revolving around community policing, however, he also suggested that individuals participate with law enforcement. “What people perceive as racial profiling may be the disrespect in how an officer talks to them,” Rainey added. He mentioned how police officers are taught to have command presence in training as people may possibly size up to them.. According to Rainey, law enforcers and civilians cannot merely act indirectly. There must be a conversation between both sides. Through this Rainey sees the turning point in the future of law enforcement.