I was on the train home today, and I sat somewhere in the center of the semi-empty car. As I was getting comfortable, four African guys came and sat in the seats a little ahead of me, and started talking boisterously in their native language(s) as the train got moving.
In a couple of minutes, a couple of burly looking police officers started approaching from the far end of the car with a conductor in tow, and the African guys quieted down. One of them started looking particularly worried. The police officers passed the Africans and came into my section of the car. They stopped there, and waited. The conductor asked for the tickets of everyone in turn on the far side of the car. I pulled mine out in preparation, but as the conductor approached the African guys, the police officers jumped up to lean on the seats just behind them.
The conductor asked for their tickets, and someone of them pulled some out for the conductor to examine, saying they were going to Verona; however, something was wrong. The conductor glanced at the police officers every now and then as he patiently explained that the tickets weren’t valid. I couldn’t tell if he was emboldened by their presence, or if he was made uneasy by it. The guys started protesting, asking why the tickets weren’t valid, and the conductor explained it once again, slowly. He asked them if they could produce valid tickets. When it was clear that they couldn’t, he asked them to pay.
They protested again at being asked to pay, insisting that their tickets should be valid. “It’s always like this,” replied the conductor, explaining the normal procedure for buying tickets. “Now you don’t have tickets, so you need to pay for the ride to Rovereto. Then you can get off and buy your tickets to Verona.”
Again the protests: “But we will be late if we get off at Rovereto to change trains!”
“You being late is not our problem. That’s your problem, because you don’t even have the tickets to Rovereto. Now you need to buy them. You’ll have to get off at Rovereto. You need to pay for the tickets. It’s 7 euro.”
“7 euro! Why 7 euro? It’s 4.50 at the train station!”
“It’s more when you pay on the train. So you need to pay 7 euro.”
Now the protests began in full. Some of the guys raised their voice to each other, either asking each other for money, or formulating some sort of other plan to get around the fee. Others continued arguing with the conductor about the cost. Five minutes or so passed, and the police officers were getting visibly annoyed.
“Alright, if you pay 4.50, I will sell you the tickets,” said the conductor, finally, seeing that there was no way he was going to get the 7 euro out of them.
“What about 2 euro,” asked one of the guys.
“The cost is 4.50 per person,” insisted the conductor.
“Hurry up!” yelled one of the police officers. “Are you going to pay?”
One of the guys started rifling for some change, but it was clear he didn’t have enough, or wasn’t going to offer enough. So the conductor asked for the guys’ identification.
Once again protests, once again asking for the price, haggling on the price, pretending not to understand. The one guy who had looked particularly worried before supplied his I.D. card. The others continued talking loudly.
“Enough!” yelled the police officer, “I need to see your I.D. now.”
The guy he had addressed pulled out his card. The police office came to the seats right in front of me, and took a phone picture of it before handing it back, and asking the second guy.
“Alright, wait, wait,” said the second guy.
“Don’t you tell me to wait! I wait for nothing. Let’s go. Your I.D., right now!”
The guy handed him a card. The police officer took a picture of it, and then came right back over to the guy, and yelled, “I said give me your I.D! Are you trying to make a fool out of me? You know I will take you to the station.”
The guy seemed scared enough now, and pulled out a paper document with his information. The police officer took a picture of that one too.
The other guys seemed to realize that this was serious now. One of them started asking the conductor again about the validity of the ticket he had, either feigning or actually showing his misunderstanding. Another said he was getting the money; he would pay.
At this point, the train started approaching Rovereto, and I had to get to the doors to get off. As I exited the train, I heard some commotion behind me. The guy who had paid was running towards his friend, who had exited the train from a different car, explaining what had happened. Two of the other guys seemed to be leaving without more incident. The last guy– the one who had tried to “make a fool” of the police officer– was being flanked by the two officers, perhaps being lead away to the station.
In the end, I was never asked for any tickets.
It’s rather blatant racial profiling.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. Last time it also happened to an African guy and a Middle Eastern guy. The police officers come in, and trap the guys between them and the conductor. The rest of the people on the train never get asked for tickets, as long as they look white enough.
It is true that a lot of the Africans are the ones without the tickets. They are also the ones that are boisterous on the trains and in the streets. They are the ones that try to force cheap bracelets and selfie-sticks on unsuspecting tourists, and who follow you around until you walk far enough away, or yell at them, or give in. Possibly, they try to weasel out of buying tickets so hard, because they don’t have the money to afford them. I think the whole train tickets thing might be a ruse to try to rustle out the illegal immigrants– those who came here through some sort of pyramid scheme created by the distributors of the cheap trinkets.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the police racially profile Africans.