Protestors bring transit, civil liberties to forefront

Posted on August 24, 2011 by Nicole Schlosser

Protests in San Francisco are just as much a part of the city’s identity as the sourdough bread and clam chowder tourists clamor for at Pier 39, the Golden Gate Bridge and the infamously icy summers. 

Activists abound, holding demonstrations for the rights of workers, gay people, the homeless, the environment, immigrants, bikers, animals, and against war and restrictions on civil liberties. Whatever your cause is, there’s a protest you can join, at almost any time of day. It’s about as easy as getting a cup of coffee, and the charged, vocal nature of the city is one of the characteristics of it that I love and miss.

I used to work in San Francisco and live across the Bay, and, of course, I used Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for my commute. Because of the nature of the city, I was in no way surprised to hear about the protests of BART police shooting a transient man that allegedly threatened them with a knife, but was floored at some of the agency’s responses to the protestors.

When I read that The Daily Beast and the San Francisco Chronicle were reporting that a BART spokesman supposedly said that riders “don’t have the right to free speech inside the fare gates,” and had thought of the idea to shut down cell phone service and the busiest stations during rush hour, I have to admit, I thought the comment was a gaffe, the actions went too far, and that the protestors were right to be angry. I didn’t think the hackings, first by the group Anonymous, and then by an unidentified culprit, were justified, but I thought there was a good chance the agency may have overreacted, especially when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it would investigate BART’s action.

On the other hand, it couldn’t have been easy for BART police and other staff. As the subject came up with friends, I found myself defending the agency for the difficult position they were in and seeing more gray area in the situation than I likely would have in the past. This time, the protests were targeting BART, and, during one of the protests when demonstrators were crowding platforms and blocking train doors, they were interfering with riders’ safety, and BART’s job is to transport people safely and efficiently. Their responsibility is to the riders, and, with so much hostility leveled at them, whether you agree or not with the reasons for it, it must have been challenging to react.

It will be interesting to see what happens with today’s meeting, held by BART’s board of directors and open to the public, to discuss its wireless policy and the FCC investigation. It is the first reported U.S. governmental agency to shut wireless access as a security measure. Will it stick with the policy? Will other transit systems follow suit? What are your thoughts and what do you see coming out of this?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "'The state of SEPTA's 'State of Good Repair'"  here.

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