“In no city have I felt so in danger as Berlin”: an opera singer sues the metro for racism | Race
A Berlin subway ticket controller weaves his way through a crowd of old-school punks, mariachi band members and burly men in leather chaps, humming happily Is’ mir equal, “Everything is the same for me”.
The 2015 viral ad, featuring Turkish-German rapper from Neukölln Kazim Akboga, was a major marketing success for the German capital’s public transport company, BVG: If you take our metros, trams and buses, said- her, you can be whoever you want to be – as long as you remember to buy a ticket.
Jeremy Osborne’s experience with the Berlin ticket inspectors is less encouraging. The dual-citizen German-American opera singer is among a string of people of color who say they have been targeted and physically abused by controllers of the public transportation system in a city that outwardly prides itself on its diversity and his social liberalism. In a landmark case for Germany, he is currently suing the public metro operator for discrimination following an incident in October 2020.
Around 7 p.m. one day, Osborne was on a train on the U2 underground line between Spittelmarkt and Hausvogteiplatz when four plainclothes ticket inspectors got into his car. Berlin’s underground system does not have ticket barriers, which BVG says it cannot install due to fire safety regulations and building preservation orders. Instead, paper and digital tickets are checked on-site by a pool of 170 roving checkers, a quarter of whom are BVG employees and wear uniforms, and the rest work for two private contractors, who have no only started wearing blue uniforms in their role last November.
When Osborne asked one of the controllers to show proof that he really had the right to see the annual pass he was carrying in his wallet, things turned sour.
According to a report by the BVG subcontractor produced a year and a half after the incident, and which is partly inconsistent with a police report written immediately after the event, the passenger allegedly provoked the controllers by showing his ticket “very slowly ” and abusing them like auslander or “foreigners” (three of the four controllers had Turkish nationality). Osborne, who had not yet obtained German citizenship at the time of the incident, denies having done so.
According to the Arkansas-born singer, the inspectors snatched his pass and made him leave the car for the dock, where one told him that “Black Lives Matter is just an excuse for you” and another pushed him onto a metal bench, causing abrasions to his forearm and thigh that required hospital treatment.
“I’ve lived in Baltimore, New York, Nice and Vienna, but in no city have I felt so unsafe on public transport as in Berlin,” the 35-year-old said. Observer. “It’s like the controllers feel they have the freedom to harass you at will.”
Osborne’s injuries were milder than those of Abbéy Odunlami, a Nigerian-American art curator, who in December 2020 suffered a crushed shoulder blade, a broken collarbone and two broken ribs, one of which sunk into his lung. , when he was pushed to the platform floor by Berlin ticket inspectors working for the same contractor, Berlin Object Protection and Service (BOS).
“The doctor who operated on me said I was lucky,” Odunlami said. “A few millimeters lower and I wouldn’t have survived.” Like Osborne, Odunlami was asked to ride the platform even though he had a valid ticket.
Juju Kim, a 31-year-old American yoga teacher, broke her finger in January this year when a ticket inspector twisted her hand. Kim had been asked to get off the M10 tram for validating her ticket too late. “Public transportation shouldn’t be scary,” Kim said in an Instagram post in which she recounted the incident.
A petition and social media campaign titled #WeilWirunsFürchten (“Because we are afraid”) – after the OAG’s own slogan #WeilWirDichLieben (“Because we love you”) – has received around 60 reports since its launch in February 2021 from people who felt they had been aggressively singled out by ticket inspectors because of their appearance.
“Ticket checking is low-paid, precarious work,” said Anna-Rebekka Helmy, one of the women behind the campaign. “No one outside of a certain socio-economic background wants to do this job.” Instead of focusing on contractors, she says change must come from Berlin’s majority state-owned transport company.
Among other measures, his petition asks BVG to better pay its controllers and to set up anti-discrimination and de-escalation training with its subcontractors.
BVG says its contractor controllers are already trained in “cross-cultural skills” and brought into role-playing scenarios where they take on the role of passengers. The operator points out that ticket inspectors themselves are regularly the victims of verbal and physical attacks, with 118 cases leading to criminal prosecution in the past two years. BVG said it could not quantify the complaints it had received about aggressive behavior by controllers.
In a Germany-wide first in 2020, the state of Berlin has introduced a new anti-discrimination law, and Jeremy Osborne will be the first person to sue the city’s transport operator under this legislation .
His lawyers argue that the law, which prohibits anyone based on skin color, gender, religion, disability, worldview, age or sexual identity from taking place in the “area of responsibility ” of a public authority, applies to the Berlin public transport company and the conduct of its ticket controllers.
The same transport operator who used to have a ticket controller raps about his laissez-faire philosophy in viral video ads, however, now claims he has no real legal responsibility for the men’s behavior and women who try to catch fraudsters on its trains and streetcars.
In a letter sent to Osborne’s lawyers in April, BVG’s legal team argues that if the transit authority was a public body, a ticket purchased to ride its subways or streetcars was a private law contract, and any fine imposed was a penalty for violation. contract rather than an administrative act.