Protesters returned to downtown San Francisco train stations on August 29, vowing to keep up their schedule of Monday evening rush hour protests until the BART police are disarmed and retrained, or disbanded. This time, howevef, stations remained open and trains ran on schedule in a protest where both BART police and demonstrators took pains to reach out to commuters angered by recent train service disruptions.
A crowd of 200 people gathered outside of Civic Center station, the location of the July 3 fatal shooting of a 45 year old Charles Hill by BART police.
Hill's physician, Dr. Rupa Marya , joined the protest a day after releasing an open letter on the shooing calling for BART police to re-examine its use of force policies and training.
“Charles was a member of the invisible class of people in SF--mentally ill, homeless and not reliably connected to the help he needed,” read Marya's letter. “We often have to deal with agitated--sometimes even violent--patients in the hospital. Through teamwork, tools and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients in order to subdue them.”
The protest made its way down Market Street entering each station briefly but remaining outside the fare gates. BART police have made it clear recently that their policies only allow freedom of expression outside the paid areas of the station. Previous protests on the train platforms have lead to station closures and train delays – delays that protesters and police have accused each other of causing.
Video taken by Josh Wolf, which includes protesters and counterprotesters, including a debate between Dr. Marya and a supporter of the cops.
As the protesters moved down the Market Street corridor they were shadowed by a small army of BART and San Francisco Police Department officers intent on preventing further station closures.
At Montgomery station Deputy BART Police Chief Daniel Hartwig told the Guardian, “Protesters appear to be following BART's free speech rules and regulations and at this point we are happy they are. We support their right to protest.”
Behind him the station lobby filled protesters chanting, “How can they protect and serve us? BART police just make us nervous.”
At Embarcadero station an organizer with No Justice No BART challenged BART's free speech rules.
“Right here you can say what you want. The moment you enter that fare gate you can't say what you want,” he announced over a megaphone before crossing through the fair gates under heavy police presence.
After speaking out briefly in the paid area of the station, he exited of his own accord and was promptly arrested by BART police along with another protester in a Guy Fawkes mask who also had been using a megaphone.
Muni, which shares several downtown train stations with BART, has shifted in recent years away from police patrols to a “community ambassador” program, largely removing armed SFPD officers from those train and bus lines in favor of unarmed fare enforcement personal. The program has been praised from all sides as an appropriate balance of community safety, and fare enforcement on public transportation.
Robin, a young San Francisco native who said it was her first time participating in the police misconduct protests, characterized the gathering as a success. When asked if she found the presence of so many police intimidating she said “It was meant to be intimidating. That they would bring everyone out to police a small protest shows they fell they have something to be ashamed of.”
While the protesters focused on BART's use of lethal force, civil liberties groups filed a petition Monday with the Federal Communications Commission, as the national fallout continues over BART's decision to cut cellphone service to thwart a protest that never developed on August 11.
The coalition including Center for Democracy and Technology, Center for Media Justice, and Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that regardless of First Amendment augments for or against the disruption of cell service in the paid areas of BART's stations, BART exceeded its authority under federal law. The complaint notes that the Communications Act, which governs cell phone service providers, clearly states the no carrier shall discontinue service without authorization from the FCC.
“It has been settled law for decades that law enforcement agencies have no authority to order discontinuation of phone service on mere suspicion of illegal activity without due process,” the complaint states.
The coalition urged the FCC to address the issue immediately in light of BART's statements attempting to justify the cell service disruption, and the risk that other government agency may consider similar policies if the FCC does not assert its authority in the matter.
BART's board of directors held an emergency meeting (Wed/25) to begin crafting a policy outlining to what future instances could lead further shutoffs.
BART has staff defended its disruption of service that took place August 11, saying their intent was to protect public safety.