BART Police arrest journalists and protesters

The scene outside the Powell BART station at 5pm on Thursday, Sept. 8

BART Police are cracking down hard on a peaceful protest in the Powell Street station, detaining a group of 30 to 40 people that includes almost a dozen journalists, including Guardian reporter Rebecca Bowe, who just called in with a report on the ongoing situation. (For Rebecca Bowe's account of the BART protest and arrests, with video footage, click here.)

The scene is chaotic and details are unclear at this point, but we'll report more on this blog post as the situation unfolds. This protest stems from shootings by BART Police, the transit agency's ban on political speech on train platforms, and its decision last month to cut cell phone service in an effort to scuttle a police accountability protest that never materialized. Today's protest, organized by the group Anonymous, stated an intention to exercise free speech rights without disrupting BART service.

But BART officials have apparently decided to deal harshly with the protesters and Bowe reports that the group has been detained for violation of Penal Code Section 369i, which makes it a crime to disrupt rail service, outlawing activities that “would interfere with, interrupt, or hinder the safe and efficient operation of any locomotive, railway car, or train.”

Yet an attorney working with the protesters notes that mere speech doesn't hinder operations, noting that section C of that code section specifically “does not prohibit picketing in the immediately adjacent area of the property of any railroad or rail transit related property or any lawful activity by which the public is informed of the existence of an alleged labor dispute.”

While this protest may not involve a labor dispute, it does seem that the ongoing protests against BART are evolving into a test of the agency's claims of the authority to ban all protest and political speech on its train platforms.

More to come...

UPDATE AT 6:07 PM: The professional journalists in the group have been released after being detained for about 30 minutes, and they've been shepherded into an area where they can no longer see the group of arrestees. But a group of three to five San Francisco State University journalism students who don't have press credentials remain in custody, despite repeated appeals to the police by their faculty advisor Justin Beck.