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The MBTA will no longer bus local police to protests

The agency had come under heavy criticism for helping law enforcement at a time when people were protesting police violence.

Protesters linked arms to form a barricade to protect the police following a rally and vigil for George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and local fallen people, organized by Black Lives Matter Boston and Violence in Boston on Tuesday.
Protesters linked arms to form a barricade to protect the police following a rally and vigil for George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and local fallen people, organized by Black Lives Matter Boston and Violence in Boston on Tuesday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

The MBTA will no longer shuttle local police forces to public demonstrations, the agency confirmed Friday.

The acknowledgment came more than 12 hours after the T’s oversight board directed the agency to stop dedicating vehicles to moving police to George Floyd protest sites.

“At the direction of several members of the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, effective today, June 5, the MBTA will no longer provide transportation for non-MBTA law enforcement personnel to or from public demonstrations on MBTA buses,” spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

He added that buses will still be used to transport members of the agency’s own Transit Police force to stations and other MBTA facilities “in support of their public safety responsibilities safeguarding MBTA infrastructure.”

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The T has become a local flashpoint in the nationwide protests over police violence and racism by providing buses to transport large numbers of police officers to protest locations, and for closing nearby stations, to the frustration of advocates and protesters.

On Wednesday MBTA general manager Steve Poftak sparked more criticism when he defended the agency’s recent decisions to close stations amid protests. Soon a rift within the T community opened.

Union bus drivers told administrators they wouldn’t transport arrested protesters for police, according to the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589; the union’s president, Jim Evers, also said he had “deep concerns” about station closures if they were “preventing peaceful protesters from clearing the area.”

However, Evers also said the union had been willing to continue shuttling police, because bringing law enforcement to large events in Boston “has long been part of our mission.”

Separately, some rank-and-file MBTA workers circulated a letter demanding Poftak end the practice of moving police to the protests, saying it is “not okay.”

“The MBTA can be a wonderful force for good in the city of Boston, especially for its Black population. Our buses bring economic access, opportunity, and freedom of movement to our bus-dependent riders, who are disproportionately Black,” the letter said. “For the MBTA to use those very same buses to bring police and their weapons to those very same people is heartbreaking, hypocritical, and embarrassing.”

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On Thursday, the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, whose term is set to expire in just a few weeks, took the extraordinary step of instructing the T to stop providing transportation for non-MBTA police. Agency executives waited until Friday before acknowledging the directive.

Some board members said it was inappropriate for the agency to help serve the institution that demonstrators are protesting. Police were seen unloading from MBTA buses as recently as Thursday in Jamaica Plain.

Other transit agencies across the United States have been criticized for closing transit service amid the unrest; elsewhere, some members of local transit unions have refused to transport people arrested during the demonstrations, including in Minneapolis, where Floyd died.

Boston police did not respond to a request for comment.

The petition from T workers also called on the MBTA to reduce its own Transit Police budget and instruct its officers to not “join other police forces in any future violence against those protesting police brutality.”

City Councilors Michelle Wu and Julia Mejia on Friday also introduced a resolution, expected to be discussed next week, that would call on the T to “protect free movement and peaceful assembly with reliable transit services during public demonstrations."

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The resolution would condemn the T’s sudden closure of stations near protest sites. The MBTA has defended the closures as a way to ensure public safety at stations, but some demonstrators have said the closures left them feeling “trapped” or “stranded” downtown during a period of rising tensions with police.

The resolution, which would not be binding because the city does not govern the MBTA, would suggest that the agency establish publicly available protocols for handling protests, such as informing riders “in a timely manner of any planned or real-time changes to transit operations.”


Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.