(San Francisco – KALW) BART and San Francisco city police arrested at least 45 people Monday night, as well as briefly detained several journalists, in the latest protest against the Bay Area's transit officers.
BART officials began warning customers over the weekend of a possible commute-hour disruption, and police were out in force in downtown stations well before the anticipated 5 p.m. start time. This is the third such protest since the July 6 officer shooting of Charles Blair Hill, a homeless man who allegedly threatened BART police with a knife.
"I’m not against the police department per se," said a demonstrator on the Civic Center platform who identified herself as Lady Katey. "There are some times, some situations, where people are violent and dangerous. But I’m into better cops with morals and values who don’t just shoot people. I’ve been mentally deranged and drunk hanging out in Civic Center, not saying the nicest things, but I didn’t get gunned down for it. We’re here in fear."
Another demonstrator, who gave his name as Jabar, said he takes BART regularly for work but disapproved of the agency's actions. "It just keeps happening," he said of the police shootings. "They're not investigating themselves, and the person they brought in to do the independent investigation works all the time with police." He was referring to Mark Smith, the agency's new independent police auditor, who also worked in police oversight in Chicago and LA.
Like last week's demonstration, this was organized mostly online by cyberactivist group Anonymous. In the past week members of the group have also targeted BART's website, posting customer information and personal addresses of BART police officers on public websites. Those actions, in addition to the regular commute disruptions, had many commuters fed up.
"Ever since Oscar Grant I’ve always been on their side, I’ve always completely understood what they’re fighting for," said one woman of the protesters. The woman who gave only her first name, Esther said, "I feel like I would have even have joined in. But the fact that they’re ruining everyone’s transportation, it's not helping anything. If anything I think it's a step back for them."
Tension began building inside Civic Center station shortly after 5 p.m., as isolated protesters found themselves surrounded by police in riot gear and even more media. Police responded to raised voices and yelling as disruptions, arresting four people before declaring an unlawful assembly and clearing the station just before 5:30 p.m. Civic Center and Powell stations were closed intermittently throughout the evening as the demonstration turned into a march going up and down Market Street. BART police and demonstrators engaged in repeated shouting matches, in particular over the issue of whether shouting is allowed.
"How come you get a megaphone and we don't?" demanded one demonstrator.
Asked about this later, BART deputy police chief Dan Hartwig reiterated BART's official position that demonstrations on train platforms are a safety hazard. "That platform is not designed for anything besides waiting for public transportation," he said. "We have free areas throughout our system that any demonstration, any protest is welcome to exercise their first amendment right."
Hartwig also defended his officers' use of megaphones. "We utilized the megaphone to read a disperal notice and only to read a dispersal notice," he said. "We’re there for the right reasons. We’re the police officers, the peace officers, within this system. So if we choose to utilize that megaphone it’ll be for the right reason, and that’s what we did today."