Faced with yet another protest over BART's disruption of cell phone service on August 11 to preemptively disrupt a protest, and with lingering anger over the BART police shooting of Charles Hill on the Civic Center station platform on July 3, BART police stifled vocalizations of dissent with immediate arrests during an Aug. 22 protest on the Civic Center Station platform.
“Free speech is the best kind of speech,” said one protester on the Civic Center BART platform as the second protest called by the international hacker group Anonymous in as many weeks challenged the BART system at rush hour.
As a few protesters began to gather, surrounded by dozens of riot police and media, a uniformed BART police officer told a young African American man he would be arrested if he raised his voice. Chanting began in response among the small pack of protesters, and the man was promptly arrested by BART police.
As he was being led off the platform by police, a woman who stood in the center of the platform began verbally engaging a BART officer, saying, “BART police need to be reformed. Make BART Safe. Make BART safe.” She was apparently arrested for nothing more then her words. Deputy BART Police Chief Daniel Hartwig said he could not provide any information about what the arrestees would be charged with.
Video by Shawn Gaynor
Shortly after, BART police declared the small gathering an illegal assembly. Riot police surrounded some 40 protesters for arrest as media was ejected from the station.
Civic Center station and Powell Station were both shuttered, blocking many transit passengers from their evening commute.
What started as a cell phone disruption has apparently escalated into BART arresting anyone expressing an unfavorable opinion of BART.
When asked if the arrested represented a new BART police policy for protests, Hartwig told the Guardian BART's policy remains the same. “This environment has to remain safe, and if that safety is jeopardized in any way, we will make arrests," he said. "We have a responsibility to maintain a safe station.”
Protesters said it was appropriate to protest on the Civic Center platform because it is the location of the July 11 shooting of Hill by BART police.
Earlier in the day, the National Lawyer's Guild issued a statement calling on BART to respect passengers' and community members' civil liberties during the Aug. 22 demonstration.
"First and foremost, the BART Police should provide transparency regarding the killing of Charles Hill and should stop shooting people, especially unarmed and incapacitated individuals," the NLG statement read. "Second, BART should apologize for its disruption of cell service on August 11th and not repeat this unconstitutional action. Finally, BART should recognize passengers’ right to freedom of speech on platforms and in trains."
Calls to the BART for the names of the arrestees and number of arrests had not yet been returned by press time.