"I DON'T WANT to say it's because I'm black," says David Rush, when asked why he thinks he was issued a 30-day exclusion from TriMet property while registering minority voters at the Beaverton Transit Center late last month.
"But honestly—what else am I supposed to think?" he asks.
Rush, who was formerly in the Navy, has been working for the Southeast Portland-based Community Voters Project (CVP) for the past month, arrived at the Transit Center at noon on June 26. Half an hour later, he had registered about a dozen mainly African American and Hispanic voters, whom he is supposed to target as part of the CVP's mission-to register half a million minority voters across the country. That's when two TriMet bike cops showed up.
"I said, 'How're you doing,' and I did that purposefully so that if they saw me and wanted me to leave, they could ask me," says Rush. "But they didn't say anything."
Over the next two hours, Rush, who lives in downtown Portland—and is partially covered for this photo, as he fears reprisal if he's fully identified—says he watched the officers stop people as they got off the MAX. A disproportionate number of those stopped, Rush says, were black and Hispanic. At 2:30 pm, he was registering somebody to vote in one of the bus stalls, when one of the officers beckoned him over, Rush says. The officers asked Rush for his identification, and he asked why he had to show them.
"They wouldn't give me an answer as to why, even though they had no probable cause," says Rush. "So we went back and forth like that for about 15 minutes, and then they said if I didn't show them my ID, they would take me to jail."
So Rush gave his identification to Officer Jason Billings, who wrote him a 30-day exclusion ticket from TriMet for "non-transit use."
Rush says he told the officers "at least five times" that he was just trying to register people to vote. "But every time I said it, they acted like they didn't hear me," he says.
Rush's exclusion began on July 3, and he has been frustrated with the CVP for not doing enough to sort the situation out. The TriMet cops mailed Rush's exclusion to the CVP's offices, and Rush says his employers neglected to inform him about a hearing on July 3 where he could have protested the exclusion.
"I mean, I was on the clock when this happened," he says. "And it's all right for them, they go back to the University of Oregon in Eugene when this is all over. But I've got to go back to work in construction next week. And this is still outstanding."
Ben Chilton, who runs the Community Voters Project out of a building on SE 11th and Clay, told the Mercury on Friday, July 11 that he thought it was possible Rush was profiled because of the color of his skin, particularly since none of his other 25 voter registration people—six of whom are also African American—have ever been excluded from TriMet property for registering minority voters. "None of our other canvassers have ever been asked for their identification, either," he said.
"Judging from what I've seen of David, he's a good guy," Chilton adds. "And typically, we haven't had any problems with TriMet officers. Nor have we ever had a problem with any other officers out of Beaverton."
Chilton referred further questions to CVP's Denver-based national operations director, David Rogers.
"One of the things we go at lengths to do is build relationships with people like the county registrars and police in situations like this in order to avoid problems," says Rogers. "And we haven't had any other issues like this across the whole country in terms of people being arrested or even ticketed for working for us."
Rogers says he is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure nobody gets in trouble for doing their job.
"We attempted to work with TriMet to correct this but they told us Rush would have to contact them directly," he says.
Rush has been in touch with TriMet, according to agency spokesperson Mary Fetsch. "Mr. Rush appealed the exclusion," she says. "However, the Hearings Officer sent notice of the hearing to his California address, rather than to his Oregon employer. Obviously he missed the hearing, so the citation was sustained."
That said, TriMet reviewed Rush's citation, and rescinded it as we went to press. "From the information on the citation, [Rush's] activity was allowed," Fetsch says. "There were no other issues, so we recind the citation."