After a Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) passenger was shot by a contracted security guard Friday, Memphis bus riders say that there needs to be more efforts toward maintaining public safety at the Downtown bus terminal.
Following an argument with a bus driver near the William Hudson Transit Center, the victim was shot by Milz Mayhorn, a security guard with Ambassador Worldwide Protection Agency.
MATA announced Monday that it is cutting ties with the security agency and is immediately launching an internal systemwide agency review of public safety, as well as security measures and procedures. The review, led by former director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, Dale Lane, will look at current security practices and make recommendations.
But, in a letter to Gary Rosenfeld, CEO of MATA, members of the Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU) said that they have been asking MATA to end the contract with the Ambassador Agency since 2015.
“We also want to commend MATA for holding Ambassador Worldwide accountable by ending their contract and beginning an internal security review,” the group said. “However, it's important to acknowledge that MBRU has repeatedly expressed concerns to MATA about Ambassador Worldwide's practices.”
The letter said the Ambassador guards “maintained discriminatory practices, like harassing customers with sagging pants, using unprofessional language, and resorting to excessive force — without ever being disciplined.”
Continuing, the letter cites specific incidents of excessive force by the private agency. According to the group, Cynthia Bailey, a regular bus-rider, was placed on an authorization of agency, after being assaulted by an Ambassador security guard.
On other occasions, the group claims that the guards prohibited them from doing outreach at the bus terminal, calling it solicitation. MBRU said that is a “clear misinterpretation” of the Memphis Code of Ordinances which they believe defines public solicitation as "any begging or solicitation in the city of money, subscriptions, or contributions for a particular cause, or the offering for sale of any merchandise or subscriptions that benefit said cause.”
“MBRU's outreach involves talking to bus riders about free meetings that are open to the public, and thus do not fall under this ordinance,” the letter said. “MBRU has never made public solicitations of money or financial contributions of any kind at the terminal.”
Additionally the group noted that the Hudson Transit Center, also known as the North End Terminal, “is a hub for Memphians from many walks of life, and should be a safe space for everyone.”
“We believe that MATA could take more action to ensure that the NET is a place where low-income people and people of color can be accommodated without fear of harassment,” members said.
The group is looking to collaborate with MATA officials on the safety and security at the terminal moving forward.
“We want to see a proper balance between keeping bus riders safe and holding law enforcement accountable, and that's something that can help our common investment in better transit,” MBRU said.