BART service disruptions as protesters call for transit police to be disbanded (video)

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A protest organizer holds a photograph of Charles Hill, who was killed July 3 by BART police.
Photo by Luke Thomas, fogcityjournal.com

Rush hour on the BART system in downtown San Francisco was royally screwed up for several hours July 11, and for protesters who paced along station platforms chanting "No justice, no peace!" and engaging in verbal clashes with transit cops, that was the point. The group, after all, is called No Justice, No BART, and they were there to pressure the agency in the wake of a BART police shooting.

The protesters were there to call attention to the fatal July 3 shooting of Charles Hill, a man who had no permanent address. The BART passenger was gunned down roughly a minute after two transit officers responded to a call from a station agent.

Things started heating up at around 5 p.m., when protesters who had gathered at Civic Center Station, the place where the shooting occurred, moved in a procession up and down the platform, chanting. According to fliers handed out to all the participants, the plan was for groups to board and exit the train cars together.

"None of this is really a question of public opinion -- nobody here is in favor of people being shot down," an organizer said into a megaphone at the beginning of the protest. "The question is, what is it going to take to make it stop?" To cheers and applause, he said, "We're here today to take action to stop the BART police from killing. We don't think the BART police should exist. There's a mobilized angry public that isn't going to take this shit anymore."

Here's what happened when the group tried boarding the first train:

The video was captured by Josh Wolf.

BART Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig was in the thick of it all. The chaos prompted police to shut down Civic Center Station and order everyone to leave. Once a dispersal order was issued, protesters and media exited the station, and passed by a line of officers from the San Francisco Police Department that had formed on the street.

The march then proceeded down Market Street to Powell station, and many activists boarded a train there, then exited at the 16th and Mission Street Station. With police and media still trailing behind, they proceeded back downtown on foot.

A second standoff occurred around 7 p.m. at the cable car turnaround, just outside Powell Street Station, much to the bewilderment of shoppers who gathered outside The Gap and Forever 21, clutching their shopping bags. Wearing helmets and holding nightsticks ready, police stood in a line to block off Powell street, facing protesters who were congregating in the plaza.

Tensions ran high as chanting continued and people shouted at police. At one point, a young mother who held her three-year old son started shrieking at police, enraged. She said that an officer had taunted her by saying, "Bang, bang, we'll come."

No one was arrested while the crowd remained in the plaza, but after mostly everyone else had left, a man who had joined in the protest was taken into custody and charged with being intoxicated in public.

Earlier in the afternoon, at Civic Center Station, Laura Wolterstorff held a photograph of Hill that she had found online. "This happens often in our city, not only with BART police, but with the SFPD as well," she said, adding that she works with people who are struggling with homelessness and mental health issues. In the case of transit cops, "Is it necessary to have a police force that carries guns?" she asked.

Another woman who joined the protest at Civic Center, who gave her name as Miriam, said flatly, "I think if he was wearing a suit, he wouldn't have been killed."

Details about why transit police fired at Hill three times about a minute after arriving on the scene are sketchy. While the police have justified the shooting by saying he was brandishing a knife, the agency has yet to release a surveillance video of the incident.