Three arrested during MetroLink protest

Tuesday, July 1, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- The idea came from a protest four years ago that shut down Interstate 70. But while Monday's protest at a light-rail station created little inconvenience, activists still hoped they made their point.

A few dozen protesters carried signs and chanted slogans at a MetroLink station at Forest Park. Three went to the tracks and sat down, attempting to disrupt the service, but were carried off within seconds.

Protest organizer Eric Vickers and his daughter, Jamilah Nasheed, were charged with obstructing the flow of a train. The Rev. Cleo Willis, who staged his protest a few minutes later, when no train was near, was charged with trespassing.

Members of the Concerned Citizens Coalition decided to protest because, they said, black-owned subcontractors have received less than 5 percent of the dollar amount of contracts to help build the new MetroLink line from Forest Park to Clayton and Shrewsbury.

"We're dramatizing the situation, bringing it to the public light by creating a public inconvenience," Vickers said prior to the protest.

But there was very little inconvenience. A train waited only a few seconds as Vickers and his daughter were carried away. When Willis sat down on the tracks a few minutes later, officers seemed more bemused than angry. One said to Willis, smiling, "Hey Cleo, you're pretty sneaky there. Us old guys couldn't catch you."

Police and security guards outnumbered protesters, who chanted loudly but were peaceful.

Earlier, Metro spokesman Patrick McLean said, "Frankly, we will not tolerate civil disobedience. That's the simplest way we can put it."

The protest began about two hours before the St. Louis Cardinals played the San Francisco Giants. Thousands of baseball fans typically travel via MetroLink to and from Busch Stadium. Thousands others use MetroLink to commute to and from work.

Some black MetroLink riders said they, too, were concerned about the lack of minority subcontractors. Others were just hoping the protest wouldn't delay their rides.

"If you look back at the past, people have done protests and gotten things done," said Antonio Ellis, 19, who was heading to the ballgame. "If they (Metro) said they'd award these contracts, you're supposed to keep your word."

But after a long day working the cash register at McDonald's, Donna Johnson, 37, was in no mood for a commotion.

"Could y'all do this somewhere else so I can get home?" she jokingly yelled at the protesters.

Lack of minority contracts for St. Louis-area highway projects prompted several hundred protesters to sit down on I-70 and stall morning rush-hour traffic for several minutes on July 12, 1999.

The protest worked, Vickers said. Since then, the Missouri Department of Transportation has hired more minority contractors, he said.

Metro officials have stated a goal of 20 percent involvement by women- and minority-owned subcontractors for construction projects. Vickers called on Metro to establish separate goals rather than lumping the two.

"Otherwise what happens is 17 percent of the work will go to women and 3 percent to African-Americans," he said.

McLean said most of work targeted for women- and minority-owned businesses has gone to white female-owned businesses thus far. But, he said, Metro cannot establish quotas for a particular minority group.

McLean said Metro also was concerned that there weren't enough minority-owned businesses to award them a greater percentage of the work. He said Metro hired a work force diversity consultant to identify women- and minority-owned firms and was considering a mentoring program to assist those businesses.

Another protest will take place over the Fourth of July weekend -- as thousands travel downtown for Fair St. Louis -- unless Metro agrees to change, Vickers said.

About 160,000 people a day ride MetroLink, which currently operates over 34 miles of track from Lambert Airport through downtown to the Illinois suburbs.

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