Monday, August 15, 2011

The BART Protests

BART Protests Shut Down Several Stations: "A protest has shut down three BART stations in Downtown San Francisco on Monday. Protesters are upset over a recent decision to shut down cell service to thwart a previous demonstration. Joe Vazquez reports."

Protest at the Civic Center BART station July 11, 2011

BART stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit; it's the subway system that serves San Francisco and the surrounding area, and it's recently been in the news for a number of unpleasant incidents in which the transit police have seen fit to fire their side-arms into the bodies of... well... Negroes [and others]

[Note: One loses track of all the shootings. Kenneth Harding was shot and left to bleed out by SFPD officers on July 16, 2011 at the Hunters Point-Bayview Muni Station, allegedly after failing to pay his fare. I initially confused him with Charles Hill, who was shot and killed by a BART policeman at the Civic Center BART station on July 3, 2011. Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART policeman at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland on January 1, 2009. His killer, Johannes Mehserle, resigned from the BART police force, was tried for second degree murder and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to two years, and was released in June of 2011.]

This has caused more than a little consternation among certain BART riders who have taken to protest, on a fairly regular basis, especially after the shooting of Charles Hill on July 3 of this year at the Hunter's Point Civic Center Station, ostensibly for not paying his fare. (Exactly how that would be done, I'm not too sure because you can't get to the trains without a ticket unless you jump over the turnstiles like they do in New York.)

A protest planned for last week, August 8, was apparently thwarted when BART officials ordered cell phone service to the Civic Center station turned off, in what is apparently the first such effort to interfere with cell service by a public agency on record.

A protest of that action, as well as the police shootings of Charles Hill and Arthur Oscar Grant was scheduled for Monday evening, August 15, at 5pm at the Civic Center Station, but rather than shut off phone service, the BART authorities decided to close the station instead. They also closed the rest of the Downtown San Francisco BART Stations and suspended MUNI (bus) service in Downtown.

In addition, as they have done at other BART protests, the Authorities deployed their heavily armored, black-clad riot squads in close formation and threatened the protesters with swift and sure dispersal and/or arrest.

Meanwhile, the notorious international hacker squad called Anonymous retaliated for August 8th's cell phone shut down by gaining access to and publishing online the personal information of some 2000 BART riders and calling on participants in the August 15 protest to wear red and Guy Fawkes masks. If you click on the link at the very top of this installment, you'll go to a video of live coverage of the August 15 protest, and you will hear commentary to the effect that few were wearing red and that the mask is supposed to represent some British 17th Century revolutionary.

A fairly comprehensive news story appears in this morning's Chron -- though it was actually more comprehensive last night when posted shortly after the Downtown stations were reopened.

It appears that the majority of BART riders in Downtown San Francisco were seriously discommoded during rush hour by the disruption of service brought on by the protest and the police reaction to it. But at least cell phones weren't interfered with. So there is that. From the comments I've read and heard about last evenings action, the riders were not amused.

I've long said that discommoding the powerful is essential for protest demonstrations to have an effect rather than being dismissed out of hand. That may mean, for example, actions that result in shutting down subway stations, streets, bridges, shutting off or disrupting communications, or what have you.

In the "cat-and-mouse" of yesterday's protest (as the Chron puts it) discommoding tactics were employed both by citizens and by the authorities, with the upshot being a standoff. According to reports and videos I've seen, the protesters marched above ground from the Ferry Building to the Civic Center Plaza (those familiar with San Francisco know these locations well) on Market Street, shutting the thoroughfare down; once they found they could not enter any of the BART stations along the route, they remained assembled at Civic Center Plaza (surrounded by Robo-cops) while a splinter group marched back to the Ferry Building chanting slogans and carrying signs.

For all the rage that is being expressed right now over the inconvenience to commuters, let alone the privacy invasion by Anonymous, in fact, the tactics being employed by the demonstrators are the kind of non-violent civil disobedience measures that are necessary for a protest to have an effect, and further, they are persisting in protest despite being thwarted in reaching their initial objectives.

This is how it is done, and no, one doesn't "like" it. These kinds of protests are disruptive and inconvenient, they disturb one's routine, and they interfere with one's comfort and convenience. That's what has to be done. The argument against this sort of non-violent disruptive protest is that it "punishes the innocent." Well, one might want to take that issue up with the corpses of Oscar Grant and Charles Hill.

BART cops have become notorious for their excessive use of force and for their very itchy trigger fingers. They have long been known for thuggishness toward a certain class of rider, ie: Black men, but they have become murderous, much as the Oakland police department did during the hey day of the Miami Vice-ified drug war. They'll shoot your ass to this day. Ordinary people seem to intellectually understand this is "wrong," but they don't want to be unduly inconvenienced, so they also declare these protests "wrong" because the protesters are getting in the way of their comings and goings. Yet getting in the way -- of ordinary people and the powerful -- is one of the few ways that Americans have left to them that can actually cause the Authorities to change their deplorable behavior.

"But the protesters are behaving deplorably!" Nonsense. Complete nonsense. They are bringing attention to issues and people that are important to them, and they are demanding positive changes in the behavior of Authority. One of the chants they use is: "We are all -- Charles Hill! We are all -- Oscar Grant!" I don't know if you have to live in the Bay Area under oppression to understand the deep emotion such a chant can touch, but it is very effective. What happened to Charles Hill, what happened to Oscar Grant can most certainly happen to anyone the BART cops target -- you, in your narcissistic bubble are not immune.

The protesters themselves are behaving effectively. Which is, of course, a threat to The Powers That Be, which is why such an overwhelming and uncalled for police reaction force is deployed to intimidate the protesters and -- theoretically -- to reassure ordinary BART riders that the Authorities have got their backs. No, that isn't what this deployment of overwhelming and unnecessary force communicates at all. WTF, they've got automatic weapons. No one in the crowd -- so far as we know -- is armed, and there is no hint of a threat of physical violence of any kind by the protesters -- unless of course you consider "protesting while Black" such a threat, which is just stupid.

This overreaction by Authority is one of the characteristics of The Powers That Be when they know they are being shamed and they refuse to take the shame and correct their evil ways. BART is a public agency and they are accountable to the People. They have done everything in their power to avoid accountability -- or shall we say to divert accountability -- in the ongoing struggle against police brutality and overall high-handedness and contempt of the public by the Agency.

I'm sure the BART (and area-wide civic) authorities are well aware that murderous brutality and high-handed contempt of the public by representatives of Authority are sure-fire triggers of civil unrest and disorder, not simply peaceful protest. (We saw this in Britain recently, eh?) BART seems intent on pushing the envelope just as far as they can, pushing the public's rage and reaction buttons to such an extent that there are riots (which there have already been -- on a small scale -- over Oscar Grant's killing and the blank-stare reaction of the BART honchos in their defense of the transit police.)

There are many lessons to be learned in the ongoing struggle against the Police State being imposed on Americans from above. BART is only a tiny corner of the whole, but unless there is significant, persistent, and effective protest, nothing will stand in the way of its expansion.

Those Robo-cops are a threat to everyone.

In the immortal words of MDC (Born to Die):

No War
No fascist USA


  1. An obnoxious techno-libertarian Website I visit regularly, Slashdot, had something about the cell phone shutdown:

    After Cell-Phone Switch-Off, Anonymous Promises BART Protest

    Reading the comments can be used to raise your blood pressure if you feel it is unhealthily low.

  2. They do love their little Police State, don't they? That is, they love it as long as they think their precious little asses are "protected" by the Robo-cops. They haven't quite made the leap of comprehension that they could be the target next.

    There was an editorial about it in my local paper today, saying that BART was wrong to shut off cell-phone service, also questioning the protesters' tactics: "Is making the commute more difficult really the best way to win public support?"

    No. No it isn't. That's not what they are trying to do at this point. But then, even the Mighty Editorial Board must know that. There are -- or at least there used to be -- a few veterans of the Civil Rights struggle on it, and they should know.

    The protests are remarkably effective right now at shaming the Agency and its bloodthirsty police force. People see the heavily armed Robo-cops on the platforms and on the street, facing down unarmed, peaceful (though loud) ordinary, mostly young, and highly diverse citizens, and the public does not feel reassured at all. They feel threatened, just as Bull Connor and his dogs and firehoses were ultimately threatening to the white folk in Birmingham.

    A police state affects everybody, and the mindless authoritarians at Slashdot -- and elsewhere -- may well come to rue the day they cheered the BART cops and denounced these protests.

  3. They do love their little Police State, don't they? That is, they love it as long as they think their precious little asses are "protected" by the Robo-cops.

    Yes, this was readily apparent in the aftermath of the Columbine Massacre on Slashdot, when suddenly teenage techno-libertarians were being viewed with suspicion and contempt by Authority and their new "zero-tolerance" rules.

    For a while short while there, it seemed like an anti-Authoritarian Website. But then that calmed down, and love for the police came rushing back.

  4. Heh, I read this today "It is sad to say that the United Kingdom is heading down the road of tyranny to be a complete police state like the United States, but Prime Minister David Cameron has announced just that today." David Cameron declares war on his own people; promises a British police state by
    Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer

    It's always fun to read Europeans compare our horrible country to theirs.

  5. Funny, isn't it, that just a few weeks ago, Cameron's continued premiership was in serious doubt, thanks to the Murdoch scandal, and now... there's a Crisis, don'tchaknow, and so he'll probably stay in office for the next fifteen years and get knighted by the Queen.

    My my how fortunes change.

    As for Britain becoming a police state, I say Ha! Don't forget, my heritage is Irish. We Irish know all about British police state tactics.

    Did you hear about the Facebook posters who got sentenced to 4 years for "inciting riot" for posting a call to "riot" on their Facebook walls -- only nobody showed up but the police?

  6. Strangely enough, I have some Irish Catholic background myself, but then my British grandfather who married my Irish Catholic grandmother was nominally Church of England but his real religion was trade unionism. (So sad that his daughter became a member of the Sean Hannity fan club.)

    Yes, there is an article about "the Facebook rioters" on Slashdot, though I missed that little detail.

    I did read recently that Cameron is going to bring in an American supercop!, to crush the rioters according to the press.

    I wonder if it will be Robocop.