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Helsinki police looking into HSL ticket racism row

A teenager's family wants HSL to explain why their son was the only one handcuffed over an invalid metro ticket.

HSL:n sovellus puhelimen näytöllä.
Two youngsters did not have valid metro tickets. One ended up in handcuffs. Image: Alexander Uggla / Yle

Police are looking into a racism-related row over how Helsinki Regional Transport (HSL) officials handled the case of two young men who did not have valid tickets for boarding the Helsinki metro, according to Helsinki police Chief Inspector Juha Hakola.

Hakola told Yle News that police are currently reviewing the case to see whether any criminal activity requiring a formal investigation had been committed during the incident that took place on 4 July.

"We are aware of the case and are looking into the situation. We have material including security video from the scene and will decide whether there is reason to investigate due to possible criminal activity," he said.

Inspectors attempt to fine teenagers

The case turns on an incident in which two young men, one of them black, did not have valid tickets to board the metro at the Central Railway Station. Two HSL ticket inspectors who were conducting checks around 9pm that Saturday night attempted to fine the teenagers 80 euros each for not having valid tickets. However the young men reportedly resisted.

A brief video clip circulating on social media shows security guards and HSL inspectors restraining the 17-year-old on the ground. The youngster’s family have accused the HSL inspectors and security guards of racism, noting that the other young man, who is white, was not treated in a similar manner.

A copy of the HSL investigation into the matter obtained by Yle News indicates that both teens were reportedly agitated and allegedly attempted to leave the metro platform. However one of them calmed down and provided the personal information required for the fine, while the other did not, according to the report.

"A third (male) inspector arrived to assist the pair of inspectors, and he took the first person without a ticket aside with the help of security guards so he could possibly calm down," the report said.

"The person who was taken aside began to physically resist the inspectors and security guards, when he was put on the ground and handcuffed by security guards," it continued.

Family: Only black youth restrained

The family of the young black man who was placed on the ground and handcuffed took to social media to condemn the actions of the ticket inspectors and the security guards. They pointed out that while both young men initially tried to leave the platform to buy valid tickets, only the black youth was restrained.

"We have absolute zero tolerance for racism and the use of violence. We have heard from all of the inspectors who were present," HSL communications head Sari Kotikangas told Yle when asked about how the transport authority reacted to the incident.

"We have decided to organise anti-discrimination training for our inspectors this autumn. It will deal with racial profiling among other things. Although we do not recognise that it took place in this case, it is an important subject because we want our actions to be responsible, including with respect to human rights issues," Kotikangas added.

The family however claim that their son has been left traumatised and is now receiving emergency psychological services as a result of the encounter. They also said that HSL did not reach out to them after the incident and did not respond to a complaint lodged about the fine.

Police decision possible next week

HSL’s head of ticket inspection Janne Solala told Yle News that the transport authority’s communications unit had attempted to contact the young man’s mother by phone but had been unable to reach her. He also said that his unit had been in email contact with the family over their challenge to the fine.

"People always have the right to appeal the fine and they may not always have to pay. If they are not satisfied they can also appeal a fine in the Helsinki Administrative Court," he noted.

Salola said that while inspectors have the power to issue fines, a key part of their job is to guide passengers.

"Inspectors have a large degree of freedom in deciding if to apply the fine or not. They can consider the overall situation but we expect passengers to find information about what they need to do. It is not enough to claim to be a visitor in Helsinki," he said.

The young men were from Turku and according to the family, not used to travelling about in Helsinki.

Helsinki police department’s Hakola said that police may make a decision on how to proceed next week.

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