The decision by BART officials to interrupt wireless service at several downtown San Francisco stations Thursday in an attempt to disrupt possible protest plans has drawn criticism.
The transit agency interrupted wireless service for several hours in response to a possible planned protest that was spurred by the fatal shooting of 45-year-old Charles Hill by BART police July 3.
BART officials said organizers were planning to disrupt train service Thursday during rush hour, like protesters did July 11, when a protest at the Civic Center station temporarily closed it and led to a number of arrests.
The decision to cut service has been widely covered–from Bay Area blogs to international outlets like Al Jazeera. A number of articles and comments have drawn comparisons to Egypt’s deposed President Hosni Mubarek.
Twitter users have even started a trend using the hashtag #muBARTek as play on his name.
Civil rights groups have voiced opinions, as well. A blog post on the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California’s website said, “Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it’s halfway around the world or right here at home.”
State Sen. Leland Yee released a statement today blasting BART officials for their decision.
“I am shocked that BART thinks they can use authoritarian control tactics,” he said. “BART’s decision was not only a gross violation of free speech rights; it was irresponsible and compromised public safety.”
BART officials say they are well within their legal rights to disrupt wireless service and that they support free speech as long as it does not interfere with riders’ safety.
“There are areas in the BART system that are designated free-speech areas. We support that,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said.
The busy platforms with nearby fast-moving trains and high-voltage third rails, Allison said, is not the appropriate place for an “anything goes atmosphere.”
“To allow free and unfettered activity of any kind is simply not safe,” he said.
The online hacker group Anonymous has called for another protest Monday at 5 p.m.
The group sent out a letter to BART promising to “set the censored free from their silence.” Using the Twitter hashtag #opBART to spread the word, Anonymous is calling on San Franciscans to participate in the protest and asking those who cannot attend to bombard BART with emails, faxes and phone calls.
“BART decided to cut off your communications and now we will flood theirs,” their statement said.
Allison said BART officials are aware of the possible protest Monday and that he did not know whether they would disrupt wireless service again.
“We’re making plans to try to protect our customers,” Allison said.
Erika Heidecker, Bay City News