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MBTA police look into encounter between officers, youths on Red Line train

Transit police are reviewing an encounter between officers and black youths on a Red Line train that prompted a local performer who witnessed the incident to write about the issue of race and law enforcement in a widely viewed Facebook posting.

The incident occurred on Wednesday night, according to the posting from Jamie Davenport, 23, a white woman who describes herself on her website as a Boston-based actress and playwright. She said she was riding the train when a group of black youths between the ages of 12 and 16 entered and began acting rowdy.

They “mouthed off” at the conductor who asked them to quiet down, Davenport wrote. MBTA Transit Police boarded the car at South Station and said the teens could continue home if they exited the train and got on the next one.

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The group complied, but the officers ordered another black teenager, who had not been with the unruly crowd, to exit the train as well, Davenport wrote. The teen said he did not know the others, and police allowed him to remain on the train after Davenport vouched for him, she wrote.

“We share a moment of blankness and then tears well in both of our eyes,” Davenport, of Cambridge, said of her and the teenager, in her posting.

In a follow up interview, she said the responding officers were calm and the encounter was civil.

However, Davenport said, she felt compelled to write after hearing the youths, anticipating the arrival of police, discussing what to do if the officers began shooting at them.

In addition, she said, she felt badly for the teenager who was mistakenly lumped in with the group. He later informed her that he is working a summer job at an organization that promotes healthy relationships and that he wants to help stop domestic abuse.

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“He was just such a remarkable boy,” she said by phone. “And I felt so sad that he’s scared to ride public transportation, and he’s scared to just be him.”

In a statement, Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan said his department took “immediate steps to ascertain what transpired” after Davenport’s account surfaced online.

“My preliminary findings suggest our officers conducted themselves with a calm and professional demeanor,” Sullivan said. “We take great pride in the men and women of the Transit Police Department. The cornerstone of our philosophy is Community Policing in the truest, purest sense of the word. Our officers are trained to diffuse situations not exacerbate them.”

Sullivan said preliminary findings show the officers asked a “disorderly group of young people” to exit the train and board the next one, which they did without incident.

“There was another young male, who was seated in close proximity to the group, who was also asked to exit the train,” Sullivan said. “Once off of the train, this male explained he was NOT with and/or associated with the group. This was confirmed by the larger group as well as an independent passenger. At this point the young male was allowed back on the train and continued about his business.”

Sullivan said his agency has reached out to the youth and his mother.

“We are continuing to look into this matter and are committed to serving our riding public with the utmost dignity and respect,” he said.

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Davenport said in her Facebook posting, which thousands of people had viewed as of Friday, that her own youthful indiscretions attracted minimal police attention, in contrast with the young people on the Red Line.

“I spend the night replaying the whole scenario over and over again in my head,” she wrote. “And realize that three words keep running through my mind. Three words that until I heard a 12-year-old black girl say aloud to her friends as they awaited the police I did not understand. Three words that are so little but mean so much.

“Black Lives Matter.”


Nicole Dungca and Steve Annear of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.