Last week, members of opBART, a loose-knit group of protesters determined to derail the transit system’s police force in the wake of several highly-publicized officer-involved deaths of train riders and even more public relations missteps, organized yet another gathering for Thursday night.
Several members of the Xpress news staff were present at the protest, and seven journalism students from SF State were detained that night after a scuffle between protesters, media and BART police.
But that is not the story.
The story is one of police mistakes, public relations mishandling and outrageous protest demands that have spun out of control. This situation has become a self-perpetuating scenario of inconvenience, waste and just plain silliness.
How is calling in a high number of police in riot gear a proportional response by BART to provide security for riders from what at best was estimated at 50 protesters?
Civic Center’s U.N. Plaza routinely draws out larger crowds for rallies ranging from anti-Prop 8 campaigns to free Bradley Manning protests.
Rarely is riot gear deployed.
Yet Thursday night, BART police and the hordes of SFPD officers surrounding the station at all its various levels broke out the heavy-duty uniform.
Monday night saw a group of roughly 30 people darting in and out of BART stations, beginning at Civic Center and then marching around downtown. This caused frequent jurisdictional changes between SFPD and BART police, as protesters attempted to keep themselves from being ‘kettled,’ the tactic to surround the crowd that police employed Thursday to confusing results.
The scene was captured on most local evening news broadcasts, again with more media and police partaking in the romp around the city than actual protesters.
BART and SFPD must jointly realize that these protests are not the threat to society that they perceive them to be.
These protesters are exercising their right to free speech and to peacefully assemble.
While the railway may not like what they’re saying, 30 people does not a riot make.
Wasting time and resources trailing them around town is showing them as silly and far too sensitive to the protesters chants.
Members of opBART also needs to make some concessions. Disbanding the BART police is unlikely. While SFPD may be able to cover some incidents within the city, many towns along the BART lines have seen their police forces slashed and their ability to respond to incidents severely hampered.
Leaving the vast transit system without a centralized police presence is a situation that leaves the railway just one horrendous incident away from a whole other set of protests.
It seemed at one point last month with its public meeting that BART might be willing to come to the table and make some concessions or at least open the dialogue with protesters.
Come back to that point, BART. Engage your critics, don’t kettle them.
Only through opportunities for open, two-way discussions are these protests going to end.
And goodness knows, isn’t that at least one goal you all can agree on?