9:02 PM (BCN): More than 20 protesters were arrested at San Francisco’s Powell Street station this evening at a rally organized by a group whose goal is to disband the BART Police Department.
An estimated 25 to 30 protesters were arrested by BART and San Francisco police officers on suspicion of interfering or disturbing the safe operation of a railroad after they were corralled together in a circle outside the fare gates, shutting the station down for about two hours, according to BART police Deputy Chief Daniel Hartwig.
The group “No Justice, No Bart” organized the protest, which drew dozens of supporters who are angry about the fatal shooting of Charles Hill, 45, at Civic Center station by BART police officers on July 3. Hill was allegedly wielding knives and a broken bottle as weapons when he was shot, police said.
Protesters filed into Powell Street station carrying signs reading “Disband BART Cops” and chanting “How can they protect and serve us? BART Police just make me nervous!” around 5 p.m.
The group marched around the concourse before huddling together outside the fare gates. At this point, BART police officers told protesters to disperse and many left the station, except for about 25 people.
Officers circled the remaining protesters, who cried out, “I’m being arrested for what BART administration told me to do.” At about 5:30 p.m., officials closed the station’s gates at Hallidie Plaza and blocked off all entrances. Passengers still exiting trains at the station were ushered out.
A couple of protesters pushed against police officers and were arrested and taken away in handcuffs. Most of the remaining protesters who were arrested would be cited and released, Hartwig said. Members of the media were also asked to leave the station.
Dozens of protesters and onlookers remained outside the station, including some who chanted “Let them go!” and others who yelled at officers blocking the escalators leading down the concourse.
“BART police are not there to protect the public,” said Callie Maidhof, a spokeswoman for No Justice, No BART.
BART spokesman Jim Allison earlier today said that shutting down the station would be a “last resort” and would happen only if the safety of travelers was threatened.
“We don’t have an issue with protests,” Allison said. “We have an issue with them interfering with people who wish to take the train home.”
Allison said BART has spent about $300,000 on increased manpower and overtime expenses during the protests that have taken place at San Francisco stations over the past two months.
“It’s money we would rather spend on things like making sure the system’s in a state of good repair or reinvesting in the infrastructure, but if we have to spend it to make sure trains are on time and people are safe during these demonstrations, we do that,” Allison said.
Maidhof said protesters were within their rights to gather outside of the fare gates.
“People shouted and had signs and police came in and arrested them,” she said. “(Do) they think coming in and arresting people just for shouting will improve their image?”
The Powell Street station was reopened at about 7:25 p.m. and no other stations were closed during the protests. No significant train delays were caused as a result of the rally.
8:02 PM: According to BART spokesperson Jim Allison, the closure of Powell Street BART station from 5:30-7:25 Thursday evening was decided on by BART police because “demonstrators were creating unsafe conditions for customers trying to enter and exit the faregates near Hallidie Plaza.”
Allison, who has repeatedly told media that “We don’t have a problem with people protesting outside the fare gates,” which he has repeatedly referred to as a “free speech zone,” did not specify what actions of the protesters led to the determination that BART customers were at risk.
Allison did not have an exact number of individuals arrested at tonight’s protest, estimating that “between 20 and 30″ were arrested after, he said, they “violated Section 369i of the California Penal Code, which prohibits interfering or disturbing the safe operation of a railroad.”
Appeal pal Julia Bernstein noted at the time of the protest that “they’re kicking all the journalists out of the station.” Allison confirmed that statement, saying that “BART Police Officers and staff repeatedly asked journalists to leave the station when police determined the station needed to be cleared.”
6:33 PM: Dozens of protesters have been arrested at BART’s Powell Street station in San Francisco this evening, according to BART police.
Demonstrators gathered at around 5 p.m. to protest the fatal shooting of 45-year-old Charles Hill by BART police in July.
Powell Street station is closed and around 20 to 25 arrests have been made, according to police Deputy Chief Hartwig.
“They’re kicking all the journalists out of the station (and) threatened bystanders with arrest” emailed Appeal pal Julia Bernstein, who took the photo above this evening.
“I tried to email from my phone there, but they shut off cell service in there” Bernstein said.
An attempt to confirm that cell service was shut off by BART has not been responded to by officials. “The cell thing could’ve been a fluke…I have no proof BART officially authorized a cell shutdown,” Bernstein clarified.
Protesters were still gathered outside the gates of the station as of 6 p.m. and police were demanding that all those inside the station, including reporters, leave the premises.
BART officials said all other stations are open and train service is on time.
Bay City News contributed significantly to this report