BART Debuts Its Domestic Violence Awareness Campaign. Then One of Its Board Members Was Racially Harassed on Public Transit.

Leaving the launch of BART’s “Let’s Talk About Us” campaign at Powell Station, its board president had both racial names and gummy candies thrown at her taking an SFMTA line home.

BART passengers — myself included — have become all too acclimated to problematic behaviors conducted while riding the Bay Area’s rapid transit trains. Yelling matches are common. Open-air drug use is not rare. Violent crimes and property theft continue to be central problems to rider safety. (However, it’s important to note that these issues aren’t unique to BART. Many public transit services in large urban areas face nearly identical problems, all of which have been exacerbated by rising rates of homelessness, the ongoing fentanyl epidemic, and upticks in certain types of violent crime.)

Yes, there’s the occasional happenstance rock performance or miniature horse sighting on a BART train. But these objective feel-good events dim when contrasted against the number counts of harassment, especially those centered around domestic violence, reported on these trains… each and every day. 

BART Police’s more recent Monthly Chief’s Report, which was recorded in December of 2022, shows a year-to-date total of 350 violent crimes reported on BART — a 58% increase over the prior year. The San Francisco Chronicle notes that since 2017, BART has received 509 reports of domestic violence on its trains or in its station; this includes assault against a partner, spouse, or child, and abandoning or neglecting children. And over the past 8 years, the agency has barred more than 300 abusers from riding its trains.

BART has a crime problem. Absolutely.

That’s why it recently debuted the “Let’s Talk About Us” campaign, which aims to bring awareness to domestic violence survivors and the need to hear and believe their stories; it’s an important undertaking by the rapid transit agency.

The campaign was conceived by the Asian Women’s Shelter — a brainchild that’s being supported by a $50,000 grant from the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund to raise awareness about domestic violence prevention throughout public transit stations. The organization recruited the famed NYC-based artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya to create a constellation of original artwork displayed on posters and digital ads that cover downtown SF’s BART stations; ten other stations in the Bay Area will also be covered with these CTA artworks. 

“While you’d expect to always find safety within the API community, the last few weeks have shattered that illusion,” said Phingbodhipakkiya tells in a BART blog about the campaign’s launch. “The link between domestic violence and mass shootings is frighteningly clear, so it’s up to us to continue to expand conversations, share resources, and shift behaviors. I was drawn to this project because I believe it’s everyone’s responsibility to care for our communities. Art is one of our most powerful tools for progress. And through this work, we’re inviting dialogue and moving people to action.”

BART Board President Janice Li added that the agency is “committed to enhancing the safety of women and girls, who are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.” 

According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, around half of Asian women in the U.S. report experiencing intimate physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetime. 

Li notes that BART stations are “often the location for child visitation and custody pick-ups or drop-offs as they serve as a neutral location for adults to meet.” Alas, interactions at these stations can escalate, becoming violent and traumatizing.

“This campaign can help disrupt the patterns of harm and ensure safe passageways for all riders,” Lie continues.

After the campaign was launched at BART’s Powell Station to announce the launching of “Let’s Talk About Us,” which was attended by SF City Attorney David Chiu among other notable public figures, Li, herself, was subjected to racial harassment — while riding public transit. 

“After a beautiful press conference at Powell BART, I went up to Market Street to take the 5-Fulton home,” Li writes in a series of tweets, describing a scene where racist remarks were hurled her way. “As I was waiting, I felt a gummy worm get thrown at me. I see three kids with an older woman sitting at the bus stop eating gummy worms. I say hey, please cut it out.”

Li continues: “They claim I’m harassing them and can’t prove it’s them. Then, as I’m facing them, they throw a half-eaten one at me, which I catch.”

It’s at this time that “offensive, racist names” were hurled her way… as well as more soft candies. 

Eventually, the family got off before Li, but not before the BART Board President began formulating mitigation strategies, should they have gotten off with her; a stop at a nearby cafe to seek temporary refute was among the plans.

Like literally every human on this planet, Li has the inalienable right to exist and simply be in public spaces. Alas, in a world organized by both majority privilege and through a lens of heterosexuality, it’s often not the case for those that sit outside the canon of modeled norms.

“We just want to exist in public spaces,” Li waxes. “That’s all.”

It’s that simple. And here’s hoping BART’s timely campaign will help create conversations around this very human right, in tandem with opening up both conversations and safe spaces around discussing domestic violence.

For more information on the “Let’s Talk About Us” campaign, including more details about the original artwork, click here.

Feature image: Courtesy of BART

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