Phil Ting and Leland Yee Throw Down Against the BART Police Cell Phone Shutdown Policy

[UPDATE: The latest video communique from Anonymous, or somebody.]

I’ll just say for the record that, fundamentally, what BART did with their cell phone repeaters on Thursday wasn’t unconstitutional. (Of course, I think their actions this past week were stupid - the representatives of BART are behaving in a ham-fisted fashion, oh well.)

However, this bit here from Friday’s hastily-released release is overbroad:

“No person shall conduct or participate in assemblies or demonstrations or engage in other expressive activities in the paid areas of BART stations, including BART cars and trains and BART station platforms.”

Rest assured, passengers can legally engage in at least some expressive activities (like wearing a red shirt to represent the blood of dead passenger or saying, “Gee waiting for BART can be a pain,” for example) in the paid areas of the stations regardless of what BART’s PR hacks say. (Don’t you have lawyers on staff, BART? So why don’t you let them formulate your legal policies instead of having a formerly ink-stained wretch writing copy? Just asking, Bro.)

Comes now Zusha Elinson of the The Bay Citizen:

“Ironically, it was BART’s chief communications officer Linton Johnson who has taken credit for the idea to shut off service. Johnson told The Bay Citizen that he suggested it to BART police after a protest on July 11 snarled the evening commute. Demonstrators delayed trains and even tried to climb on top of one as part of a protest against the BART police shooting of Charles Hill on July 3. Johnson said that the police didn’t have to take the idea, but they did, and he bristled at criticsms leveled from passengers and civil libertarians. “It is an amenity. We survived for years without cellphone service,” Johnson said. “Now they’re bitching and complaining that we turned it off for three hours?”

Ooh, the B-Word (or gerund or whatever.) Is this the definition – acting like an overbearing woman? (Sometimes PR people get in trouble for not doing enough and sometimes they get into trouble for doing too much. I think we’re at the point when the PR person is doing too much.)

Now, here’s what your Senator Leland Yee has to say about the matter:

“Yee Blasts BART for Cell Phone Decision - Senator urges FCC to investigate, calls on BART Board to take action

SAN FRANCISCO – Today, Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) blasted BART officials for shutting off cell phone service earlier this week within downtown stations to prevent protests. Yee called on the BART Board of Directors to take immediate action to prevent a repeat incident in the future. Yee also plans to contact the Federal Communications Commission to request an investigation on the constitutionality of the decision.

“I am shocked that BART thinks they can use authoritarian control tactics,” said Yee. “BART’s decision was not only a gross violation of free speech rights; it was irresponsible and compromised public safety. Riders need cell phone coverage to call on police and medical personnel during an emergency. How many more lives need to be put at risk because of inappropriate actions by BART officials?”

On Thursday, BART switched off the transit system’s underground cell phone network throughout downtown San Francisco after they learned individuals were planning to coordinate a protest using mobile devices. The people were protesting a July 3 fatal shooting by BART police.

“The BART board should take immediate action to prevent a repeat of such a blatant disregard for the needs and rights of riders,” said Yee. “I plan to also contact the Federal Communications Commission to investigate this appalling incident.”

And here’s a bit from Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting:

Censorship Is Not a Public Safety Strategy - BART Shuts Off Cell Phone Service to Prevent Protest

By: Phil Ting

The news from BART keeps getting worse and worse. We learned this morning that not only did BART turn off cell signals in its Civic Center, Powell Street and 16th Street Stations on Thursday evening to try and prevent a protest – the decision was made at the very highest staff level of the agency.

Censorship is not, and should never be, a public safety strategy. We take BART leadership at their word about motives; they say they were worried about a crush of passengers and protesters on a dangerously crowded platform.

But the proper response to such a concern was to send BART police, and SFPD if necessary, to safeguard passengers and protesters. The decision to cut off cell service in order to prevent the protests violates fundamental principles of our democracy.

Violating Fundamental Principles of Democracy

At Reset San Francisco, our view is that the more voices heard, the more vigorous our democracy. Peaceful protest is a way people who are not being heard can be heard – and that feedback, as uncomfortable as it can make the politicians, is absolutely necessary to improve government.

Of course we must promote peaceful protest, not dangerous actions like rushing a crowded train platform. But we don’t enforce laws by violating our most fundamental principles of free speech. Censorship is not, and must not become, a public safety tool.

Across the world, pro-democracy protestors are using social media to spark peaceful protests. And across the world, governments that fear their own citizens are trying to block the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and SMS texts that give everyday people a new power to be heard.

It is sad that in our own city, and from one of our own government agencies, censorship was used to block protest.

Make Your Voice Heard – Right Now

We need to make sure this never happens again. Please be heard on this important issue. Below are the names of all the BART Board of Directors and an email address to contact them. Indicate whether you are contacting the full Board or an individual Board Director. I know many of them are as appalled by this as we are. But please email them now – and give them the support and strength they need to stop the policy of censorship immediately.
BART Board of Directors

Gail Murray – District 1
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

Joel Keller – District 2
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

Bob Franklin – District 3
bobfranklinbart@aol.com

Robert Raburn – District 4
robertraburn@covad.net

John McPartland – District 5
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

Thomas Blalock – District 6
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

Lynette Sweet – District 7
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

James Fang – District 8
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

Tom Radulovich – District 9
boardofdirectors@bart.gov

On It Goes.

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3 Responses to “Phil Ting and Leland Yee Throw Down Against the BART Police Cell Phone Shutdown Policy”

  1. jeff says:

    I agree, they kind of put their foot in it this time. ..Funny thing, that Anonymous has been threatening Twitter (the very same corrupt twtterloin just a few blocks away from this), over cooperation with the British authorities, who themselves are now asking to shut down cell phones, at the same time this is happening here. I already saw one speculation that BART did this because UK was trying to do it…Kind of ironic when twitter became such a big deal in Egypt and how the press swooned over that

  2. Bluoz says:

    Anonymous goes after BART…

    the cell phone blockage on BART yesterday, is making lots of international news now, including Al Jazeera and FARK with the headline Cellular services disabled to prevent protesters from organizing. Is this a) Syria, B) Yemen, or C) San Francisco lo…

  3. jeff says:

    now it’s really asplodin..

    http://sfappeal.com/news/2011/08/bart-braces-for-anonymous-organized-protest-monday.php

    some of those twitter channels are up to 25 a minute now

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