BART cops arrest dozens at protest in free-speech area 

Protesters attempting to demonstrate in BART’s free-speech areas Thursday evening were quickly thwarted as transit agency police officers surrounded and detained about 30 people within the Powell Street station.

Click on the photo at right to see a slideshow of the protest or scroll down to see a video of BART's news conference.

BART officials have previously said they would allow protests and freedom of speech demonstrations as long as they remained outside fare gates in the free speech area.

The arrests were made on grounds of interfering with BART’s ability to “provide safe operation of a railroad,” according to agency Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig.

“We’re doing what BART police told us to do,” one protester said as he was taken away by police. “We’re outside the fare gates; we’re doing nothing illegal.”

The station was closed for about two hours following a 20-minute protest where dozens of community organizers wanted to test the free speech limitations of BART, according to Krystof Cantor of No Justice, No BART, which called for the demonstration.

“We don’t trust BART to protect us,” he said. “We’re here to see how warmly we are received.”

Cantor and many others slowly walked the perimeter of the nonpaid areas of the station’s main lobby, chanting, “Whose BART? Our BART!” and “How can BART protect and serve us? BART police just make me nervous!” BART police then moved in and created a perimeter surrounding the group. Cantor was the first person detained.

As protesters walked, though, commuters hurried to catch trains before the station closed.

Protesters had hoped the number of people gathered outside the gates would force BART to open the station and allow commuters to ride for free. Instead, the Powell Street station was closed by 5:30 p.m. All other stations remained open.

Hartwig said BART police and officials make the decision about when to arrest protesters. Though he would not respond to questions about the violation each person was arrested on, Hartwig said the crowd prevented passengers from getting through and police had to act.

“We are obliged to protect the system and protect our passengers,” he said.

Many of those detained were members of the media and student journalists from San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco.

This is the sixth protest since July 11. Four have been organized by online hacker group Anonymous in response to BART shutting down cellphone service during a previous demonstration. Groups involved in Thursday’s protest have said they are responding to police brutality, specifically the fatal shootings of Oscar Grant III on New Year’s Day 2009 and Charles Hill on July 3.


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