by Dave Id
In justification of BART’s shutdown of mobile phone service on Aug. 11, the agency began to disingenuously claim that demonstrations against BART’s police brutality were a threat to passenger safety, even though no one has ever been hurt during a BART protest. On Aug. 22, at the second demonstration called by Anonymous, BART took this safety rationale to new heights, not only claiming that holding a banner was a safety concern but additionally that even raising one’s voice was grounds for arrest as a threat to safety.
Apparently, any criticism of the agency within the BART system is now a safety issue – or at least BART believes that legal rationale relieves them of all obligations toward respecting Constitution-protected free speech.
In the video below, BART officer J. Conneely from the BART Police Department’s “Tactical Team” steps up to three demonstrators holding a blue banner, starts to grab it and tells them that they are subject to arrest for displaying the banner. “You are free to express yourself upstairs. It’s a safety issue. You are not allowed to do that down here,” he says. Conneely refuses to explain how the banner is a safety issue.
Within another couple of minutes, Conneely tells a demonstrator who is discussing the BART police killing of Charles Hill on July 3 that she has to “keep [her] voice down … for safety reasons” and that by speaking loudly, she is subject to arrest. Picking up on this strange BART police declaration, another protester announces, “If we raise our voices, we will be arrested.” That demonstrator then leads a chant of “No justice, no peace, disband the BART police,” and is promptly surrounded by BART riot police who proceed to physically remove him from the station for arrest. Reports are that those arrested at Civic Center station have been charged with trespassing. Go figure.
It is clear that BART’s policy against “expression” within stations is not content-neutral. Four people were arrested in the Civic Center station on Aug. 22 for speaking out against the BART police, but a passenger who was yelling at protesters was not arrested nor even confronted by BART police, allowed to rant at length. And somehow a political banner has been determined by the agency to be a safety issue, yet BART stations are filled with commercial advertisements across the walls and sometimes even on station floors and stairs.
BART refuses to hold its police accountable when they beat or kill passengers and now the agency appears to be at wits’ end on how to deal with Bay Area community members who won’t shut up about it. Being a public transportation system, BART simply cannot stop in-station protests, short of declaring itself an independent country and implementing martial law. And so the agency is grasping at straws, setting new constitutionally dubious precedents in its attempts to stifle free speech, from pulling the plug on mobile phone antennas to declaring that raising one’s voice on a platform – if the speech is critical of BART – is an offense meriting arrest.
The problem with BART’s new approach is that, as it futilely tries to ward off public criticism of its violent and unaccountable police force and the managers and executives look the other way or help to cover it up, BART has brought upon itself a wave of new critics, from civil libertarians to Anonymous – people who have never protested BART before, yet are more than willing to join in the fight for civil rights in the battle against BART.
Video of the first arrest inside the Civic Center BART station in San Francisco Aug. 22
by Dave Id
Dave Id is a journalist and activist who has thoroughly documented the Justice for Oscar Grant Movement, at http://indybay.org/oscargrant. This story first appeared at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/08/23/18688466.php.