BART arrests journalists, denies media access to protest

10 09 2011

Bart police are catching heat again for yet another public relations gaffe, this time at the protest on Thursday at Powell Street Bart Station where they arrested professional and student journalists along with protestors, and forced all other media to leave the station, thus denying media direct access.

SF Chron's Vivian Ho arrested

From Golden Gate Express: San Francisco Chronicle reporter Vivian Ho was handcuffed and led away by BART police during the Sept. 8 "no fare" protest organized by No Justice No BART. Photo by Brittney Barsotti.

By chance I happened to take the metro downtown Thursday to pick up art supplies, arriving at Powell St. Station minutes before police began to shut it down.

What I observed was troubling in terms of freedom of speech, assembly, and press.  Furthermore, the way in which Bart PD spokespeople have since publicly represented police conduct conflicts with what I and others, including professional journalists, actually observed.

I probably saw as many people with cameras as actual protestors.  There was some chanting and shouting, but it appeared peaceable, and a string quartet played nearby.  Bart police were backed up in and outside the station by dozens of SFPD, as well as sheriff, and apparently Homeland Security as well.

At a certain point, the metal gates were drawn at the Hallidie Plaza entrance, and the police surrounded and closed in on a group that has widely been reported to contain not only protestors, but professional and student journalists, standing in the prescribed “free speech zone”.  They were pressed in tight, at times maybe two officers deep, and it was clear that no one inside the circle was allowed to leave.

KTVU2's Jana Katsuyama detained

From Golden Gate Express: Christian Rem leads a group of protesters in chants as Jana Katsuyama, from KTVU Fox 2 is surrounded by BART police during the No Justice No BART protest at Powell station on Thursday, Sept. 8. Photo by Brittney Barsotti.

Police and Bart staff ordered everyone else to evacuate, including the media.  I was in the last handful of people to be escorted out, along with a KGO7 news crew and a member of San Francisco State University journalism faculty, Justin Beck, who repeatedly stated that his students were still inside, that he needed to be there for them, and that the media has a right to cover what is going on.

Obviously, Bart authorities did not agree.

Bart forced all media representatives, other than those they had detained, to evacuate the station.  That is why, for example, the KGO7 crew was forced to shoot this through the metal gate.

KGO7 at Bart Protest

Question: Do journalists really present such a danger that they require half a dozen officers each to interrogate? Isn't it self-evident why they are there, to do their reporting jobs? And isn't that job an essential part of a functioning democracy, a right guaranteed by our Constitution, in order to protect us from devolving into a police state?

In Bart’s news conference shown below, you’ll hear one of the journalists who had been detained question Bart PD’s Deputy Chief Daniel Hartwig and make clear that those detained did not receive fair warning and were not allowed to leave when the order was given (at 4:43 into clip)

(Also, at 4:20 another journo says he did not observe protestors blocking the fare gates.  He did, however, see police block the fare gates [pic].)

SF Chronicle’s Vivian Ho’s twitter feed confirms that she did not hear the warning either, before she was detained along with protestors (also confirmed in this Chron editorial, which further states: “The outrage here is that police put Ho in handcuffs after she identified herself as a Chronicle reporter.”)

Here’s what officer Hartwig had to say in today’s Chron:

“We don’t have the luxury of checking credentials in the heat of the moment.”

Honestly, there really wasn’t much heat, and actually, police reportedly did have time to check and confiscate press credentials [1, 2].

“We have never limited media access,” he said, “but we may consider having designated media areas with a police line, and if you cross it you’re subject to arrest. So far we have avoided that because it’s pretty restrictive.”

One step closer to criminalizing journalism.

“But I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that we want to restrict their ability to demonstrate, or their ability to report the news.”

Last word goes to the Chronicle editorial:  “The BART Police Department continues to demonstrate troubling lapses in judgment and competence, in ways large and small.

Thursday’s rally was one of a series of demonstrations held by “No Justice, No Bart” in protest of Bart PD’s killings of Charles Hill and Oscar Grant.

Another demonstration is reportedly planned for Monday at Civic Center Station.

Added Footnotes (9/12/11):

1.  Journalist Josh Wolf has produced a video that captures much of what went down, posted on youtube (just under 13 min):

2.  Noticeably absent from the protest and the media has been BART’s beleaguered Chief Communications Officer and Chief Spokesman Linton Johnson, who has historically been the public face and voice of BART since 2004.  Recall that the dismissal of both Johnson and BART Chief of Police Kenton Rainey is at the top of Anonymous’ list of demands.

Update 9/14/11: 

Unbelievable:  BART PR does it again, this time staging opposition to the protestors

In addition to masterminding the cell phone shutdown that made international news, BART Spokesman Linton Johnson tried to plant scripted “loyal riders” at a news conference criticizing protestors on the very same day.  Bay Citizen broke the story, which has since appeared in the Chron and on Huffington Post, publishing Johnson’s incriminating email, including his script for the riders to read from when speaking to the media.  BART spent nearly $900 to rent two SUVs for the purpose of busing riders to the conference, a complete waste since no one showed up to ride them.  Only one “loyal rider” attended the conference and was ignored by the media since the story of the day was the implementation of Johnson’s cell phone shutdown.

At a time when it appeared public support for the protestors was on the wane, BART’s every move only seems to add fuel to the fire, and shoot themselves in the foot once more (perhaps the only target they’ve managed to hit that’s truly deserving).  It would truly be a comedy of errors, if passengers’ lives and constitutional rights were not at stake.

UPDATE (11/14/11)
SF Chronicle:  Longtime bart spokesman moved out of public eye

Linton Johnson’s problems this summer began with another fatal police shooting, that of Charles Blair Hill at a station in San Francisco on July 3. BART said Hill, 45, had been shot while winding up to throw a knife.

Johnson sent an e-mail to BART colleagues hours before a planned protest Aug. 11 in which he outlined a strategy to win over public opinion by showcasing “loyal riders” who would be carried to a news conference in rented SUVs. Only one rider contacted by BART actually appeared at the conference.

BART cut off wireless service in its downtown San Francisco stations that same evening to prevent protesters from coordinating their actions. Johnson said the idea had been his.

Johnson also drew fire for declaring that riders’ free-speech rights end at the fare gates. After the ploy to recruit “loyal riders” was revealed in September, Franklin said Johnson “began taking some of this personally. He made a series of errors in a limited amount of time.”

Read more

Update (12/1/11)
Sacto Bee: “SF area transit policy allows for cellphone outage

OAKLAND, Calif. — The agency that oversees the San Francisco area transit system is authorizing police to turn off wireless communications in train stations, but only for extraordinary threats.

Read more

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8 responses

11 09 2011
linko58

Its happening all over the country. The government is making its move to completely enslave and control us.When they pull this our numbers have to grow beyond their control.We are the boss of them. Its our money and we can cut them off any time we choose. If we can coordinate the effort. We must elect Ron Paul too the presidency.And we must also vote out all oath breakers from congress and senate. And between Ron Paul and a constitutional congress. They can begin the task of rooting out the corruption that has a strong hold on this country. I don’t like to think of the other option. But either way enough is enough. They are out of control and want to serve our whole country up to world government. And that is just not going to happen. I swore an oath to defend the constitution of the united states against all enemies foreign and domestic. And i as do most oath keepers take it very seriously. God bless you all for standing up to this tyranny.It will not rule much longer. And people will pay for their crimes against humanity.SO HELP US GOD!!!

18 09 2011
asiansart

“We want to be masters of our own destiny … We need no Gods or Emperors. We do not believe in the existence of any savior. We want to be masters of the world and not instruments used by autocrats to carry out their wild ambitions. We want a modern lifestyle and democracy for the people.” — Ai Weiwei

From “On Weiwei and Artist Suppression”
By Antonino D’Ambrosio, June 23, 2011
http://www.progressive.org/dambrosio062411.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+progressivefeed+%28The+Progressive+Main+Feed%29

11 09 2011
12 09 2011
asiansart

Added Footnotes (9/12/11):

1. Journalist Josh Wolf has produced a video that captures much of what went down, posted on youtube (just under 13 min):

2. Noticeably absent from the protest and the media has been BART’s beleaguered Chief Communications Officer and Chief Spokesman Linton Johnson, who has historically been the public face and voice of BART since 2004. Recall that the dismissal of both Johnson and BART Chief of Police Kenton Rainey is at the top of Anonymous’ list of demands.

15 09 2011
asiansart

Their own worst enemy:

In case you missed it, it has been revealed through public records request by Bay Citizen that BART tried to plant scripted “loyal riders” to oppose protestors at a press conference, on the same day as their infamous cell phone shutdown and masterminded by the same PR genius, Chief Spokesman Linton Johnson, who reportedly still has his job, scheduled to return from leave on 9/19. Something tells us Anonymous will be ready.

Bay Citizen: BART’s Media Manipulation Strategy
http://www.baycitizen.org/bart-protests/story/inside-barts-protest-propaganda-campaign/

SF Chronicle: BART spokesman in hot water for staging support
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/09/14/BAGO1L4HAF.DTL#ixzz1Y3iUHRpl

HuffPost: Linton Johnson Scandal: Emails Reveal BART Spokesman Planted Scripted Supporters At News Conference
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/14/linton-johnson-bart-emails_n_963294.html

16 09 2011
Police State vs. Democracy: Culture Jamming as Creative Resistance #OpBART | A World Beyond Borders

[…] arrested were journalism students who were there as part of a class assignment. Not only did the police cite journalists, they took away their press credentials and told them to leave or risk […]

14 11 2011
asiansart

UPDATE (11/14/11)
SF Chronicle: Longtime bart spokesman moved out of public eye
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/14/BA9G1LUT1T.DTL

Linton Johnson’s problems this summer began with another fatal police shooting, that of Charles Blair Hill at a station in San Francisco on July 3. BART said Hill, 45, had been shot while winding up to throw a knife.

Johnson sent an e-mail to BART colleagues hours before a planned protest Aug. 11 in which he outlined a strategy to win over public opinion by showcasing “loyal riders” who would be carried to a news conference in rented SUVs. Only one rider contacted by BART actually appeared at the conference.

BART cut off wireless service in its downtown San Francisco stations that same evening to prevent protesters from coordinating their actions. Johnson said the idea had been his.

Johnson also drew fire for declaring that riders’ free-speech rights end at the fare gates. After the ploy to recruit “loyal riders” was revealed in September, Franklin said Johnson “began taking some of this personally. He made a series of errors in a limited amount of time.”

Read more
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/11/14/BA9G1LUT1T.DTL

1 12 2011
asiansart

Update (12/1/11)
Sacto Bee: “SF area transit policy allows for cellphone outage”

OAKLAND, Calif. — The agency that oversees the San Francisco area transit system is authorizing police to turn off wireless communications in train stations, but only for extraordinary threats.

Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/2011/12/01/4093408/sf-area-transit-policy-allows.html#ixzz1fJw0RIlc

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