On Guard!

Our perspective on the week's most notable San Francisco news

San Francisco and BART police officers were out in force to deal with a protest on Sept. 8.



For weeks now, protesters have descended on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations to denounce the fatal July 3 shooting of homeless passenger Charles Hill by a BART Police officer, and to call for the agency's long-controversial police force to be disbanded. Commuters have had to contend with service disruptions and delays, and costs to the transit agency have exceeded $300,000. Yet it isn't just bullhorn-wielding protesters who've been thrust into the spotlight — BART's police force is also facing scrutiny for its conduct under pressure.

BART drew the ire of numerous media outlets after a Sept. 8 protest when transit cops detained members of the press along with protesters on suspected violation of California Penal Code Section 369i, which prohibits interfering with the operations of a railroad. Most journalists were eventually released, but the protest resulted in 24 arrests.

Although BART police later contended that they issued dispersal orders prior to closing in, many who were encircled and detained (including me) insisted they'd heard no such announcement. BART police also instructed San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers who were on hand to assist to seize reporters' SFPD-issued press passes — a move that SFPD spokesperson Troy Dangerfield later told the Guardian was an error that went against normal SFPD protocol.

In a Sept. 10 editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle blasted BART police for placing Chronicle reporter Vivian Ho in handcuffs despite being informed that she was there as a journalist. Ho's experience was mild compared with that of Indybay reporter David Morse (aka Dave Id), who told the Guardian he was singled out for arrest by BART Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig and isolated from the scene — even though Hartwig is familiar with Morse and knows he's been covering protests and BART board meetings for the free online publication. Asked why Morse was arrested when other journalists detained for the same violation were released, BART spokesperson Jim Allison told us, "The courts will answer that, won't they?"

No Justice, No BART — a group that was instrumental in organizing the Sept. 8 protest — telegraphed to media and police at the outset that they intended to test BART's assertions that people's constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech would be upheld as long as they remained outside the paid areas of the station, in what was dubbed a "free speech zone." (Rebecca Bowe)



Scott Wiener tried to do something eminently reasonable, and ask the naked guys in the Castro to put down a towel before they sit on public benches. Although the Department of Public Health hasn't made any statements about the issue (and people put their naked butts on public toilet seats without creating major social problems), it's pretty much an ick factor thing — and using a towel is an unwritten (sometimes written) rule at almost every nudist resort in the country.

The whole thing is a bit ironic, since it's already illegal for fully clothed poor people to sit on the street — but so far, it's not illegal for naked people to sit on benches. So far.

Wiener's move set off an anti-nudity campaign at the San Francisco Chronicle, starting with columnist C.W. Nevius suggesting that the nudies are all perverts: "If these guys were opening a trench coat and exposing themselves to bystanders in a supermarket parking lot we'd call them creeps." A Chron editorial called for a new law banning nudity in the city (an excellent use of time for a police department that already says it can't afford community policing). The national (right-wing) press is having a field day. The commenters on sfbg.com are arguing about whether the pantsless men are shedding scrotal hair, or whether they're mostly shaved. For the record, we haven't checked.

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