February 19, 2015
By Marc Bussanich
Brooklyn, NY—That’s what the head of Transport Workers Union Local 100 seemed to be asking when we asked him why a bus driver was arrested for striking a pedestrian last week when the union claims there is a stipulation in the Vision Zero legislation that exempts city employees from criminal charges when moving vehicles strike pedestrians by accident.
In the accompanying video, we interviewed Local 100’s president, John Samuelsen, to get his reaction to the arrest of NYC Transit bus driver Francisco de Jesus for striking a 15-year old girl while crossing the street in the crosswalk as de Jesus was making a left turn in Williamsburg last Friday. We first asked him to explain the unfortunate accident.
“The bus operator, a seasoned veteran bus operator, was performing his duties [and] making a left-hand turn in an intersection, which required him to go through a crosswalk and inadvertently hit a young girl. It’s a very tragic accident. We have a young girl that’s seriously injured and we have a bus operator that will likely never forget this,” said Samuelsen.
The Daily News’ Pete Donahue reported on Monday that before the implementation of Vision Zero, legislation championed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to significantly reduce pedestrian fatalities and serious injury, de Jesus would have received a non-criminal traffic violation for accidentally striking a pedestrian. But de Jesus instead was arrested by the NYPD and charged in a Brooklyn precinct. Samuelsen said he was really mad when he learned NYPD cuffed de Jesus.
“[I was] very angry, very angry. Our bus operators are required to drive through the most dangerous pedestrian dense streets in the world every day. We make hundreds of thousands of trips per week, millions of trips per year. We’re the safest bus operators in the country—that’s the industry saying that, not just the Transport Workers Union—and unfortunately the surroundings and the logistical environment of the streets of New York City, mixed with pedestrians and bus operation, is eventually going to lead to an accident.”
Then we asked Samuelsen why did the NYPD arrest de Jesus, based on the union’s claim that Vision Zero stipulates that bus operators, being public employees, are exempt from criminal charges if there’s an accident.
“We believe that the police have interpreted the Vision Zero law to call for the arrest of our bus operators if they strike somebody in the crosswalk. The problem with that is in a situation like this, where bus operators are forced to make left-hand turns without turn signals, and pedestrians have the right-of-way, bus operators are required to make that turn. They’re put between a rock and a hard place. They’re asked to navigate through a crosswalk where the pedestrian has the right of way, yet they’re put under arrest when there is an unfortunate accident,” Samuelsen said.
Mr. Donahue also reported that Paul Steely While, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian advocacy organization, celebrated the arrest of de Jesus, prompting Samuelsen to call Mr. White a “phony progressive intellectual jackass.”
Samuelsen told LaborPress that it was an off-the-cuff response that the Daily News reported, but he stands by his words.
“Anybody who glorifies in the arrest of a worker is a phony progressive. You cannot claim the mantle of progressivism when you do such a thing. I made an off-the-cuff comment, and it made its way into the Daily News, but the fact is I stand by the comment. You are no progressive when you glorify the arrest of the workingmen and women of New York City. To tell you the truth, we don’t need the Paul Steely Whites of the world glorifying the arrest. Even if a worker did something wrong, who would take pleasure in the arrest? No progressive would do that,” said Samuelsen.