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Stagecoach, Blind Discrimination & Rosa Parks

3 November 2005

Stagecoach, Blind Discrimination & Rosa Parks

As the world remembers the passing of Rosa Parks, the black Christian woman whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955 sparked a positive revolution in the US civil rights movement, a Wellington Stagecoach bus driver has triggered a 'revolution' that strikes at the very heart of our community standards and Judaeo-Christian values.

On Monday night the unnamed Stagecoach driver stood by and allowed "a 14-year old visually impaired boy" to be "assaulted and dragged off" his bus by one of his passengers; events that were precipitated by the driver refusing to accept the boy's "blind person" bus pass. The driver then 'graciously' delivered the Pakeha, aged 18 or 19, of "skinny build" and 1.7 metres height, who committed the vicious assault, to his chosen destination.

As the Dominion Post reports today on its front page, this assault took place under the very nose of the bus driver who chose to drive off as soon as the "visually impaired boy" was disposed of and the assailant was comfortably seated back on his bus.

Constable Grant Nalder said the 14-year old boy, accompanied by his brother and a friend, boarded the Stagecoach bus in Island Bay about 9.45 p.m. on Monday night. He produced a "blind person" bus pass and sat by the front door. The driver did not accept that the pass belonged to him and asked him to get off his bus.

Such passes for the visually impaired, which clearly state the holder's name, are regularly issued by the Royal NZ Foundation for the Blind to many of its members. Stage Coach Wellington management has been well aware of the validity of the passes for years. According to Foundation spokesperson Bill Moore, the Foundation has about 11,500 members, 80 per cent of whom are not completely blind, but rather have some "degree of visual impairment".

The NZPA report records that following a discussion between the driver and the 14-year old, another passenger "grabbed the victim by the shoulder and hit him two times on the head before dragging him off the bus." Mr Nalder said that the Pakeha assailant - a "clean shaven" passenger who "wore a grey hooded sweatshirt and jeans" - was with three females.

The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards has as two of its objectives: (1) "To encourage self-respect and the dignity of the human person, made in the image of God" and (2) "To support responsible freedom of expression which does not injure the public good by degrading, dehumanising or demeaning individuals or classes of people." [see www.spcs.org.nz] These are objects firmly rooted in the same Judaeo-Christian world-view shared by Rosa Parks.

While acknowledging that the police have an important task to complete in finding the Stagecoach passenger who committed the assault, the Society fails to comprehend the actions of the driver as reported. It wonders whether a city-wide protest boycott should be called of all Wellington Stage coach buses, commencing this coming Monday evening 7 November from 9.45 p.m. onwards.

Its purpose would be to drive home to Stagecoach management the message that the public does not accept the assault of passengers on its city buses and the apparent condoning of such crimes by its drivers.

It is calling for a public apology from the management of Stagecoach Wellington with respect to this incident and an immediate public clarification of the company's position with regard to the transport of "visually impaired" and disabled people carrying passes. It also seeks a full explanation for the special treatment by one of its drivers towards the perpetrator of the crime (assault) who was allowed to travel on the bus after committing a vicious assault.

It is noteworthy that the same day Rosa Parks made her protest in 1955, black residents began a boycott of the bus system, led by a then-unknown Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The boycott lasted 381 days, and the legal challenges led to a US Supreme Court decision that forced Montgomery to desegregate its bus system and put an end to the laws separating blacks and whites at public facilities throughout the South.

The rights of the "visually impaired" as well as all members of the public to travel safely on the public transport system, need to be safeguarded.

With a huge blow-out in New Zealand's prison population - there are now 7600 prisoners in the corrections system, some 1600 more than was predicted a year ago - the Society's President Mike Petrus asks: "What sort of message does this Stagecoach incident send to potential young criminals? What message does it send to the general public, in particular vulnerable and disabled passengers, who may be subject to discrimination and criminal offences carried out on Stagecoach buses?


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