MTA public hearing in Brooklyn erupts in a fit of anger

 BROOKLYN, N.Y.-The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s recent public hearing on proposed cuts to the city’s transit system was the site of considerable rage, with angry protest by the many students on hand as well as a series of others who offered bristling testimony.

Brooklynites converged on the Brooklyn Museum, where the hearing was held, to speak back to members of the MTA board, positioned on a dais atop the stage. Many in the crowd commented on the bizarre racial make-up of the MTA representatives: an almost entirely white group in this highly diverse borough. Crown Heights, where the museum is located, is populated primarily by African-American and Afro-Caribbean peoples. Of the 15 or so board members was only one African-American man. The imbalance onstage heightened the irritation of many in the audience who see the MTA’s plan as “balancing their budget on the backs of the working class.”

The Authority plans to make drastic service cuts on a wide variety of bus and train schedules, including the wholesale abolition of certain bus and train lines entirely. Further, there are plans to make cuts in transportation for the elderly and those living with disabilities. Both senior citizens and members of the disabled community were well-represented, with quite a few speakers from both groups offering strong, indeed, intense testimony about the nature of these cuts and their effects on their lives. Several speakers aid that their advocacy organizations were filing suits claiming Americans with Disabilities Act violations..

But the constituency greatest represented in the auditorium were high school students, who came with an array of placards and banners that they waved throughout the rows and draped over the balcony overlooking the hall. The students, sitting throughout the auditorium, were from with a variety organizations. Many came on their own, having seen advertisements for the hearings hanging in the subways or, more commonly, on Facebook. The youth offered brazen responses to the few on the dais who offered any kind of comment, right down to boos and hisses at the board members’ introductions.

One of the major irritants of the evening was the MTA’s insistence on having elected officials speak first, although every person wishing to voice their opinion had to sign in and were given a slot according to the time of their arrival at the Museum. Most of the comments from politicians were filled with important facts and figures-and this crowd had not the patience to sit through it. A number of the elected officials took note, and made a point of wondering aloud why the students weren’t allowed to speak sooner.

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz’s testimony received its share of negative response, mainly due to his support of the controversial Atlantic Yards construction projects..

At one point a young woman appeared suddenly behind the public testimony microphone and attempted to make a plea on behalf of the students’; unfortunately, she had, in frustration, cut into the line in front of another speaker. With raucous support from the amassed youth she spoke of the students’ right to an education. However, as she had not registered to speak, the moderator cut her off.

When several police officers approached to remove her from the microphone, many in the crowd erupted; and, as the officers escorted the young woman away, they rushed the area. A phalanx of cops, both in plainclothes and in uniform appeared suddenly, inspiring the students and several others to stand and run to the corner of the hall where the police gathered, offering shouts of fury about the “puppets” on stage and the system governing the entire proceeding. Running from all corners of the auditorium, the police chased down and grabbed the most vocal protestors before physically escorting them out.

By the time the incident was over, the audience was considerably thinned. One of the speakers offering testimony who identified himself as a retired transit worker lambasted the panel for their part in the “abuse” and “brutality” of the young woman.

For the record, this reporter offered the following testimony to the MTA board:

We are living in an era which for most of us is the worst economic crisis of our lives. Looking up at this tailored, racially imbalanced and very comfortable looking MTA Board, I stand before you as one of the thousands and thousands of New Yorkers who are unemployed. I lost my job 6 months ago and have spent every day in this period searching for work. For me, like so many others, reasonable access to the subways and buses to get to the Department of Labor’s Unemployment Office, or much more so–to Manhattan to make wider contact with employers–is essential. Your proposed service cuts are a slap in the face to our dignity. This is an insult to the promise of our future.

Now in addition to hurting the jobless of this city and hurting the workers who make New York run, you are proposing to rob transit workers of their jobs. What you are doing is creating a wider unemployed population—and you are pocketing the profits. On behalf of all of these people here today, let me ask you: HOW WILL YOU SLEEP?

Photo: Matt Weinstein