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Postal worker’s murder keeps spotlight on carrier problems

Updated: December 27, 2013 6:23AM



Letter carriers across the country are outraged.

Tyson Jerome Barnette, 26, of Upper Marlboro, Md., was fatally shot while he was delivering mail last Saturday night.

His murder is focusing attention on operating procedures that puts some letter carriers out on the streets delivering mail after dark.

“Automation has been a failure,” noted Robert Williams, president of Branch 142, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) in the Maryland area.

“Because the Postal Service cannot process the mail, they compensate by having letter carriers report later,” Williams explained.

The union official also blamed “insufficient manpower” for the later start times.

“In Tyson’s case, he reported to work at 8:30 or 9 a.m., and then he gave assistance to another route. Police think he was shot at 7:15 p.m,” Williams said.

Letter carriers in the region held a memorial at the site of the shooting on Sunday.

Williams described the area where Barnette was shot as “really, really dark” and “secluded.”

Until the last year or so, letter carriers could go into such areas and deliver the mail without much concern, Williams told me.

“The letter carriers are very upset. They don’t like being out there in the dark, and they want the Postal Service to do something,” Williams said.

But he also points out letter carriers “deliver in the dark in Alaska.”

“It is an individual situation. If it is unsafe, you have to make a decision,” he said.

In cities, like Chicago, where shootings are commonplace in some neighborhoods, it is simply too dangerous for letter carriers to deliver mail at night.

“I definitely don’t see me doing late deliveries,” said Les Barrett, who has been a letter carrier for 15 years.

In October, two men, one of whom brandished a gun, assaulted Barrett and fractured his jaw.

That incident happened around 3 p.m.

“I think it is getting tougher and tougher out here, and more people are walking around looking for an opportunity. These guys caught me off guard because I was paying attention to the mail,” Barrett said.

According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in the last 13 months there have been 15 assaults, 12 threats and nine robberies in the Chicago region.

“Overwhelmingly — I would say at least 80-90 percent have occurred between the hours of 9 and 5 p.m.,” said Bill Hedrick, assistant inspector in charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Chicago Division.

Obviously, that trend could change drastically if more carriers are pushing mail carts on the streets at night.

Last week, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, told me all of the delivery routes in the City of Chicago work out to be “eight hour routes,” and letter carriers are on their way home by 5 p.m.

But that doesn’t take into account situations where letter carriers are helping on additional routes.

Mack Julion, president of NALC, Branch-11 Chicago, said the eight hour route is becoming the “exception.”

“It’s a total outrage because carriers here know [the shooting] could have easily happened here. It could have been one of us,” Julion said on Monday.

“These conditions exist across the country.”

Even foreigners know shootings are too rampant in certain Chicago neighborhoods.

Additionally, how long will it be before a letter carrier is shot by an armed homeowner unaccustomed to seeing a postman on the porch in the night?

Letter carriers are working men and women — not super heroes. They shouldn’t be running around at night delivering our bills and magazines.

“Hopefully, this tragedy [in Maryland] will galvanize people and get the public and Congress behind us,” Williams said.

“The Postal Service needs to make some changes.”

Email: marym@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST



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