A CTA bus in the Loop in January 2020. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

WEST PULLMAN — Union leaders for CTA workers are demanding stricter safety protocols after a man shot at a bus driver Tuesday night in West Pullman.

About 10:34 p.m. Tuesday, a 37-year-old man tried to get onto a CTA bus going east in the 300 block of West 119th Street — but he wasn’t wearing a mask, so the driver refused to let him on, police said. The man fired shots at the bus, with two hitting the bus door. No one was wounded.

Fred White was arrested and charged with attempted first-degree murder, aggravated discharge of a gun at an occupied vehicle, possession of a gun and possessing a gun with a defaced serial number, according to the Police Department. He’s expected to appear in bond court Thursday.

Keith Hill, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents CTA operators, said the driver asked the man to put on a mask and the man “became confrontational.”

“After he made threats to blow her brains out, she pulled over to let him off,” Hill said. “He got off exchanging words with her. She closed the door, pulled off, and he shot three times.”

The driver wishes to remain anonymous, Hill said.

When Hill heard the news, he was shocked — but his shock quickly turned to anger.

“My initial reaction was the condition of the operator and the passengers,” Hill said. “Once I realized that [the bus driver] was OK, then the anger set in. She was beyond choked up. Somebody just shot at her. She has a family. Her life, the value of her life, flashed before her eyes. He shot three times. We are not protected as we do our job and provide service up and down these streets.” 

CTA officials said in a statement they condemn the shooting and vow to keep drivers safe.

“Assaults on CTA employees are absolutely unacceptable, and we take any incident against our employees very seriously,” according to the CTA. “The CTA has and will continue to work with [union] leadership on this important issue. Our employees are providing essential transit service every day, and we have zero tolerance for anyone seeking to harm them.”  

But Hill said incidents like the shooting are only one thing on a long list of dangerous scenarios CTA bus drivers often encounter. Hill said drivers are attacked physically and verbally every day for things like requesting a fare or requiring someone to wear a mask.

“We have situations all day every day, and there is no protection,” Hill said. “The city, especially some of the communities we drive through, there’s no police presence, there’s no law. We’re just sitting ducks when it comes to that, and we drive through those neighborhoods. Even when we call the police, we don’t see them for a while. … All we got is each other out there. We have to protect each other.”

Hill said he’s seen conversations focused on revitalizing the city’s economy as the city reopens, but he feels improving neighborhood safety and protecting workers who interact with the public has been left off the to-do list. 

Hill said he and others have considered solutions to protect drivers navigating the city. The Metra has Metra Police, he said — so why not the CTA?

“Why can’t we have our own” police force? Hill said. “The police are busy right now. We don’t see them protecting us.”

CTA officials said they are searching for better solutions to keep drivers safe.

“CTA has taken multiple steps over the years and invested significantly in equipment and systems to keep employees safe, and we’re committed to looking for ways to further boost security,” according to the transity agency.

For now, Hill said he hopes local police forces amp up their service to keep bus drivers from experiencing harmful events like the shooting. 

“We shouldn’t be put in situations where we’re attacked when we’re trying to do our jobs to provide for our families or ourselves,” Hill said. “It’s a federal mandate to wear masks on public transportation. Why would you attack a driver because you forgot your mask? The mask is supposed to protect you.”  

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Atavia Reed is a reporter for Block Club Chicago, covering the Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chatham neighborhoods. Twitter @ataviawrotethis