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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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):
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.
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.
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.”
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.