CHARLOTTE, N.C. — CATS bus drivers and other employees gathered outside of Charlotte's government center Monday afternoon, demanding safety changes in the wake of the shooting death of a fellow driver, Ethan Rivera, 41.
"It's time to stand up," Willis Draughn, who goes by 'Red,' said.
Many of those in attendance at Monday's rally dressed in all black as they continue to mourn Rivera's death and hope no other bus driver experiences the same dangers he faced while on the job.
Draughn and others rallied city and CATS workers before heading inside to deliver their message to Mayor Vi Lyles.
"The city works because we do," Dominic Harris said as he spoke before City Council on Monday night.
The chamber was packed with people speaking up about various issues.
"They're scared that they're not going to make it home to their family," Draughn said as he spoke from the podium.
He said he's had several CATS bus operators call him, crying about their safety and reporting to work as they fear for their lives.
"That's the issue in this city -- we ain't get no respect," said Draughn. "These people don't get no respect. They help my city move. They help your city move.".
Drivers want bulletproof partitions, security on routes, working phones on all vehicles and a 911 all-call button and policy reinforcement of banned passengers. They said these changes are needed just to make them feel safe while doing their job.
A few drivers spoke to city leaders about their own experiences while on the job.
"My nose was broken, I was attacked, I didn't even know the person," Renee Holzback said.
"I have been assaulted, my peers have been assaulted," Gia Lockhard said. "We've had a driver to get killed, right here on our city streets -- shot in the head. That could have been me."
Police have named Darian Dru Thavychith as the suspect, but have yet to catch the 21-year-old. Thavuychith has a Charlotte address and police said they have spoken to his family. CMPD has continued to ask the public's help in catching him.
In the past, CATS drivers have voiced their concerns about safety. They've held a number of protests demanding changes, since Rivera's murder, including at a vigil held in his honor.
Since 2017, there have been 57 assaults on operators -- two of those including shootings -- according to CATS. The transit system said all buses have cameras, real-time GPS tracking, and driver barriers, and CATS recently replaced 11 defective radio systems following an inspection of all 304 buses.
Lyles told CATS workers she hears them loud and clear and promises more action will be done to make their jobs safer.
"We want to see our city workers be a part of our entire community and that means we have to treat you with respect just like we do any other person that works in this community," Lyles said.
She, nor the Council, outlined any type of action. Instead, she alluded to solutions being ironed out during the city's budget process.
CATS told WCNC Charlotte it is working with the SMART labor union to find solutions to address the safety concerns. Bus drivers said they will continue to protest until they are able to feel safe doing their job, and ask riders to participate in protests to show strength in numbers.
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