Posts Tagged ‘BART’

Staying in the freedom zone

By xpressmagazine

By Natalia Vasquez
Eric Verduzco

A thick scattered group of clouds race the Monday commuters home for a hot dinner, diving over one another in clusters that intertwine in delicate yet aggressive patterns. Nobody enjoys the first day of the workweek, and any interference with its commencement snowballs from mildly inconvenient to Guantanamo scaled torture. Now, Bay Area nine-to-fivers must deal with BART service disruptions each and every one of these horrific days.
“I get it, they made their point, but I didn’t shoot anybody and I just wanna get home,” the perfectly styled petite Jamie Arias huffs from her Market Street store Juicy Couture. She lives in Antioch and after working a full shift she returns home to a husband and two daughters who rely on her “to handle all the Mom stuff,” like prepping dinner or balancing the family budget. “And I certainly can’t leave my husband in the kitchen unattended,” she mouths with glossy rose lips and sarcasm in equal shades of hot pink.
When Charles Hill was shot on July 3, 2011 the BART police immediately evacuated all civilians from the area, according to witness Alexander Monsanto. “I heard the shot but I didn’t notice any yelling or struggle before that,” he recalls the sound ripping through the static of the bustling UN Plaza just as the bullet ripped through Charles Hill’s vital organs.
Security footage later shows the officer emerging from a BART train and taking less than one minute to remove his gun from the holster. It was only six more seconds before he opened fire on Charles Hill.
Chief of Police Kenton Rainey would later comment he was completely satisfied with officers’ responses.
“There were people screaming, and running, and nobody knew what had really happened but it went from zero to chaos just like that,” says Monsanto, his full lips part enough to reveal his teeth as his eyes scan to and fro while he replays the scene in his head.
A press conference the following day attempts to relay the events. Chief of Police Kenton Rainey explains that they were responding to complaints of a drunk man with an open container on the platform. The officers who arrived first acted to the best of their abilities, according to Chief of Police Rainey. They were placed on administrative leave until a psychologist could properly evaluate them. Rainey brushes over exact details between the officers and Charles Hill, only that Hill was armed with a bottle and a knife. He explains that because of the open investigation he cannot say anything specific. An open investigation by BART’s own criminal division, coupled with an investigation by SFPD.

Bart Protests

A protester sneaks into Embarcadero Station during a demonstration against BART on Aug 15, 2011

On July 11 the people responded by taking to the streets. People enter into the stations, behind the fare gates and chant to disband BART police. One person even jumps on top of a BART train to keep it from departing the platform. They hold open train doors so they wont be able to depart, and clog the platform so customers cannot board. YouTube video shows frantic personnel trying to handle the situation, but to no avail.
The horde of people not only takes over trains, they take over the streets. People walk in the center of Market Street during rush hour, slowing traffic and potentially harming themselves. Some approach police officers shouting obscenities. They chant in loud echoes reverberating through buildings of commerce, “you can’t shoot us all!”
This delays the evening commute which, according to a BART press release, delayed ninety six trains “putting at risk the safety of thousands of passengers and BART employees.”
On July 12, BART holds a meeting to review their police department. Members of the public are present to make comments to the committee comprised of BART directors. One man asks about gun training BART officers receive, citing previous incidents of unnecessary violence. Annette Sweet, a member of BART’s board of directors, explains that BART police now undergo an additional sixteen hours of training every year and Rainey explains they must qualify at a gun range every two months.
BART officials fail to cite non-violent training or civilian training, only a gun proficiency screening.
Krystof Lopaur of No Justice No BART takes the mic. Lopaur has advocated to disband BART police prior to this incident and the board knows him well. He demands to hear how a transit agency manages a police force and what kind of management training they have undergone. The answer is none. Although, board members did undergo training to shoot.

Bart Protests

A protester is arrested during a demonstration against BART at the Civic Center Station platform on Aug. 22, 2011

Lopaur also points out that while protesters and personnel alike were outside the safety areas of train platforms, BART continued to run trains through stations without stopping at top speeds, “putting at risk the safety of thousands of passengers and BART employees.”
Lopaur’s message is simple, disband the BART police because a transit agency does not have the training to handle a police force, as demonstrated by these casualties. He warns that if nothing is done, things will not quiet down.
In mid August rumours of another protest began circulating. The threats claim people would take to the streets with more force and bigger disruptions. They threatened they will be larger than the incident on July 11, and warn BART to prepare for them. And prepare they did.
BART, in a press release on their site maintained safety as their ultimate goal. “A civil disturbance during commute times at busy downtown San Francisco stations could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions for BART customers, employees and demonstrators. BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform.” As emails obtained through the Freedom of Informations Act points out, BART took action prior to imminent threats of danger on the platform. Officials acted several hours before any sort of “unsafe conditions for BART customers” were underway.
The largest organizational tool, much like in the Arab Spring, continues to be social media. The people garnish this technological tool to organize and gain solidarity across the Bay Area and to stand up for the minority class.
Dirk Peters contacts BART business partner Forza Telecom and Wifi Rail Inc. to eliminate cell phone and internet service on August 11 from 4pm to 8pm, according to emails. Peter’s emails were sent at 8:45 am, well before any disruptions. When the anticipated hour arrived, the BART was empty of any protesters and merely disconnected commuters.
BART had also planned its own press conference and what has been called publicity stunt to shuttle customers to and from a press conference intended to sway public opinion of the transit agency according to emails obtained by The Bay Citizen. Linton Johnston orchestrated the ordeal and even prepared a script for “loyal customers” to read at the conference which read among other things, that their life felt as risk. Only one rider attended.

Bart Protests

A protester raises his arms at officers as he gets surrounded during a demonstration against BART on Aug 29, 2011. Protesters marched up and down Market Street from Civic Center to Embarcadero BART stations.

As Chris Battle writes for the blog Security Debrief, “whatever action BART did take should have dealt with the actual protest and not with the lines of communications used to organize it. Law enforcement must become more intelligent in its reaction to social media. And that’s what it is, reaction.” Battle writes about security and politics of Homeland Security and a partner in leading Homeland Security strategic communication practices. “What law enforcement really needs to do is proactively educate itself on social media and learn to use it to its advantage in a positive way.”
Al Jazeera points out that because the BART tunnels would not have Wi-Fi or cell phone service. The technology services are merely a luxury provided to customers, putting the policy in a legal gray area. Linton Johnson, BART’s communication representative, cited a 1969 Supreme Court ruling as justification.
After the cell shut down people struck back harder than ever. Demonstrators cover their faces and march from the Embarcadero up Market Street. They are many, and their voices demand justice for the seven lives BART police have claimed since the 1970s.
“They say they’re here to protect and serve us, but BART police just make me nervous!” the mass of masked men and women chant. Many are wearing faux blood stained shirts in honor of the blood shed by the victims.

Bart Protests

“We are all Oscar Grant! We are all Charles Hill!” they cry as signs demanding justice for the deceased thrust towards the sky. Their message is clear, they want BART police to disarm and disband before more lives are claimed.
“I wonder why they didn’t shoot for his arm or his legs,” writes Hill’s physician, Dr. Rupa Marya, in a letter published by the Bay Guardian. She only remembers Hill as a pleasant person suffering from substance abuse.
Krystof Lapour maintains this has to do with an underlying class war that is inherent in the BART police model. Because they are serving paying customers, they set up clear boundaries for whom they will ultimately protect and serve. This class war was left out of the media, who framed the story much differently than BART surveillance and witnesses remember it.
Many news corporations framed the scene as a violent drunken homeless man advancing toward police armed with knives.
While somewhat accurate, Hill having often been at some level of intoxication and also having knives on his person, witnesses recall him holding an unbroken bottle but not necessarily wielding it at the officers. One witness, Melyssa Jo Kelly says she heard nothing from officers before they opened fire. She only heard the three shots on the platform. “It can happen to any of us, so if we don’t look after the people who don’t have power ultimately it could affect the safety for us all,” she concludes in an interview with Josh Wolfe.

Bart Protests

“What if this was your son?” calls Native American leader and No Justice No Bart Activist Running Horse. He urges the BART riders to think about the very real dangers of a police force serving only those who pay. While Charles Hill was a transient and lived in the outskirts of society, Oscar Grant was different.
On January 1, 2009 while revelers brought in the New Year with champagne and song, an altercation broke out between BART police officers and a group of young minority men at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland. Shaky cell phone videos from YouTube show four men sitting and cooperating with officers while observers yell, “fuck the police!” The officers are standing over the men and approach with force. As one man begins to rise to his feet, an officer restrains and kicks him back into line with the group.
“There are disproportionate minority arrests within BART, while only 8-12 percent of riders are black, African Americans make up 60 percent of all arrests made,” explains Lopaur of No Justice No BART. He claims the BART police epitomize a class war.

Bart Protests

They force Grant to his stomach, with his arms behind his back. One of the others in his group is handcuffed and pulled to the side. Grant squirms from his stomach to his back before two officers attempt to return him face down on the floor. Johannes Mehserle reaches to his belt and pulls what he thought was a taser. He grabs his 9mm and shoots Grant in the back, restraining him for good.
“We often have to deal with agitated and sometimes even violent people,” according to Marya. “Through teamwork, tools and training, we have not had to fatally wound…in order to subdue,” her comments of the BART police response to her patient.
Rainey explains that officers receive crisis training meant to deescalate situations but admits that BART officers are trained to “not kill people but shoot at center mass to stop the threat.” One of the two officers present at the shooting was only in his thirteenth month on the force and had not undergone the crisis training before July 3. It remains unclear if this is the officer who opened fire.
BART has ensured the public through press conferences that officers are merely there to protect riders. “Sargent Hartwig says they are serving paying customers which creates a minority problem,” Krystof comments of the interchanged vocabulary. And he maintains this mentality is the exact reason BART is not there to protect and serve like city police officers. By serving only a customer, BART police are providing a service rather than serving citizens, according to Lapour.
Spokesman Jim Allison has been quoted referring to the patrons of BART as customers, denoting the financial relationship. They further exemplify Lapour’s point by stating while they respect the First Amendment “Paid areas of BART stations are reserved for ticketed passengers who are boarding, exiting or waiting for BART cars and trains, or for authorized BART personnel. 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.”
Johnson maintains that they were only keeping public safety in mind not to limit freedom of speech. “We love the First Amendment… and as long as they remain in the free speech zone outside the fare gates.”
On September 8, the protesters chose to remain outside the fare gates, but was met with police in full riot gear and the closure of Civic Center and Powell Street stations. The protesters were asked to leave the area several times, after refusing officers closed the entrance and exits to the stations. For over two hours, a group of journalists and protesters were held captive in a swarm of police officers. The officers asked the media to present proper press identification if they insist on being released without citation. They were separated from the group as protester Nick Koehler recalls, “why is the media not being allowed to record our arrests? They’re singling out people one at a time, the media needs to record our arrests!” One by one, demonstrators and journalists are pulled from the group and put in zip ties.
Johnson refers to a free speech policy BART has had in place that can be found on their web page. Clicking the link you will find the rules clearly outlined by BART. Anybody may offer their opinion, so long as they have filled out a permit at least a week before they plan to share their opinion. Free speech is not permitted in the paid areas, something reiterated in defense of arresting several protesters. The unpaid areas are the only “free speech zones” if the person has obtained the correct permit.
Free speech permits may be denied by BART for a variety of reasons, including previous disruption or destruction of BART. If more than one person has filed a permit for that day and time, the application may also be denied. If BART deems the intent of those wishing to speak freely as dangerous or disruptive in any way, they will be denied. If the applicant can’t make it past these standards they may exercise their freedom of speech, but limitations apply.
The permit only remains valid for a maximum of four weeks, and the BART administration can pose “reasonable time, place, and manner conditions to prevent interference.” This includes: the time and date the free speech may take place, the amount of people able to speak freely, and at which stations. They also reserve the right to limit suitcases, chairs, tables, bags and other containers without limitation. The permit rules continue to elaborate that any sort of disruption to BART personnel, patrons, concessions or operation will be grounds to revoke the permit.
The actions dominated headlines across the nation and even to freedom fighters in Egypt. The American Civil Liberties Union writes on their blog, “no, it wasn’t in Egypt or London, it was in San Francisco.” The move had been unprecedented and many legal rights activists demanded that BART rethink their actions. The blog continues, “the First Amendment protects everybodys right to free expression, and when the government responds to people protesting against it by silencing them, it’s dangerous to democracy.”
The ACLU threatened legal action along with the Federal Communications Commission, but quickly backed down. They too have recognized the difficulty in regulating within the free speech zone. Instead the ACLU has began to work with BART starting in late August to implement the proper time and place to eliminate cell service.
While it remains federally illegal to “jam” cellphones, the private business relationship between BART and service providers does not fall under this law. The technology used was entirely different. That being said, section 333 of The Communications Act of 1934 only prohibits the shut down of communications from federal agencies. These factors were clearly not considered before emails were sent.
The precedent remains, so long as people organize in our technologically driven world through Facebook and Twitter they will prospectively be subject to communications policies by private institutions. These private institutions will be able to revoke free speech without the proper form, turn off modes of communication, and if a person is deemed a threat they may be shot.
Lapour and other of No Justice No BART continue to attend BART meetings and keep requesting the BART police to disband.
“We aim to allow civilian review within our policing agency to create better accountability, I could have got that wrong,” Board of Directors member Tom Radulovich explains during the BART PD review. “But here we are again with another police involved shooting and we may need to examine that option seriously.”

Bart Protests</a

Commuting: SF State from Outside San Francisco

By xpressmagazine

She is sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor, leaning towards her long mirror as she carefully applies a thick coat of eyeliner. Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” is playing in her cave-like room. She grabs her black jacket, purse, and heads off for a night out with friends. She pulls her scooter from the garage to the driveway and when she turns it on, she realizes the meter is not working. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Kaela PerLee says to herself. Annoyed, she makes her last attempt knowing in the back of her head that it is not going to work. In San Francisco, this would not come as a hastle as PerLee can easily catch public transportation almost anywhere within a short walking distance. Living in Daly City however, is another story. “Walking from my house to Daly City BART takes 20 minutes, and though the actual BART ride is not long, I have to make sure I head to a BART station before midnight to catch the last train out of San Francisco.” PerLee knows it is more of a drag going out at night, so she constantly reminds herself when to say goodbye and start making the long trip home.

IMG_6808

PerLee moved from Santa Rosa to attend  SF State University almost two years ago, and though it has been a new experience living away from home, she sometimes feels shortchanged not being able to live in actual San Francisco. With rent so high, many SF State students struggle to find an affordable place to live in the city. Whether it is Daly City or the East Bay, having to commute longer distances can get in the way of enjoying the active, lively environment of San Francisco. Some college students transfer or apply to SF State to experience the diverse lifestyle the city offers, along with its campus. Others, for certain reasons, reside outside the city. So are students really missing out on the experience of living in the city? Or is cheaper rent worth the longer walks, commutes and extra efforts?

[pullquote author="Heather Boyer, SF State student living in Fremont"]“I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but it depends on where you live”[/pullquote]

Matthew Becerra remembers those tedious mornings when he lived in Daly City. He recalls having to walk up 87th Street, then down the long stretch of Junipero Serra where he walked over the same bridge, passed the same gas station, then the abandoned buildings and animal hospital that never seemed to be open. As the Century Theater sign got bigger, Becerra felt the long walk coming to an end as he reached BART, and left the dreadful fog of Daly City behind. “Because I lived on the border of Daly City and San Francisco, there was no MUNI nearby for me and so I had to walk to the BART station everyday to take the free shuttle,” says the 22-year-old SF State student. Now that he lives in Park Merced, it takes him a swift two minutes rather than two hours to get to class. “The convenience makes my life a lot easier in so many ways as I can plan my schedule and daily routine without worrying about how to get back to Daly City, seeing as how their public transportation seem to stop running around 8p.m.”

On the other hand, art education major, Heather Boyer, can handle the extra hours of commuting to SF State from Fremont all in effort of staying closer to family and friends. Like Bacerra, Boyer’s mornings start about three hours before class. She takes an hour to get ready, grabs a quick breakfast, then walks to Fremont BART, which takes around 15 to 20 minutes. It takes a little over an hour until Boyer makes it to Daly City BART where she catches the shuttle; her final commute to State. When Boyer plans to hang out in the city, she finds ways to save money and time by staying at a friends house and driving instead of relying on public transportation. Living outside of San Francisco doesn’t stop Boyer from enjoying the city living perks, but she does however, prefer Fremont’s weather and economic living. “I hate the prices of everything, like rent, parking, parking tickets and taxes. I dislike traffic and the busyness of life [in San Francisco] sometimes, but it depends on where you live,” says Boyer.

IMG_6859

While people choose to make a home outside the city in hopes of saving some money, the cost of public transportation can still add up. Taking BART one way from any city outside of San Francisco to Powell Street is no less than $2.95, compared to the $1.75 spent commuting within San Francisco. MUNI has bus lines crossing any area within the city and offers a transfer that is valid for two hours for $2. As for San Mateo’s public transportation, the SamTrans runs only every half hour between certain times, depending on the day, and charges $2 without a transfer.
Michelle Dayrit a Fremont resident and newly transfer student spends $50 commuting from Fremont to San Francisco then to Berkeley (where she works) twice a week. But like Boyer, despite the traveling woes, Dayrit still prefers the quiet living environment Fremont offers.

Attending a school like SF State usually means that a  good percentage of  those commuter students do not depend on their parents, and have economic statuses where they have to work in order to pay for their own education. “I don’t qualify for financial aid and both my parents passed away, leaving me with no help from family. Therefore, I have to work full time and take out loans in order to attend SF State,” says Dayrit, 26, a communications major. “But I’m okay with it. They never said it would be easy, but they did say it would be worth it.” Having an ill father, Boyer also felt it was important to stay home to be there for her father, and help out with household expenses. When her father passed away, Boyer’s priority was to stay close to her family. Born and raised in the East Bay, Boyer does not feel the need to move to San Francisco as most of her friends and family live in Fremont while she can still commute to the city for school or to hang out.   

In Becerra’s case, moving to San Francisco gave him a better opportunity to find a job, which compensates him having to spend more money. One of the greatest temptations of living in San Francisco, Becerra describes, is its vast variety of delicious local restaurants and bars conveniently located everywhere in the city. Which makes it easier for students like him to spend more money on dining out rather than taking the time to actually cook something. And even if cooking is an option, grocery shopping in the city is not cheap.

CIMG2372

Commuting from the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge is mechanical engineering major, Jason Mehrens. Everyday, he spends about an hour in his car battling traffic, from Mill Valley in Marin County to SF State. For Mehrens, the disadvantage of living away from San Francisco is having to commute all the time. Whether it’s a school function or personal leisure in the city, driving is the easiest option. Mehrens lives with his parents to save money and has a tuition waiver through the Veterans Affairs office. Even with some financial assistance from the government, he still has to take out loans and work some hours in order to cover college costs, which leaves him with very little free time to spare. Having spent one year at Chico State then three years living in Santa Barbara working on his Associates Degree, Mehrens feels like he has already experienced college living. “I can’t make up my mind if I want to live in the city because I work in Marin,” says Mehrens. “If I worked in the city, then I would probably make the move, but I don’t like the feel of living in close proximity to thousands and thousands of people stacked on top of one another.” It is a hard trade given the miles of parks and rich forests Marin houses, or the serene atmosphere the county has to offer, as hours can go by without having to hear the loud noises of traffic and busy city people. For Bacerra, moving closer to campus has encouraged him to become active in campus life. He is trying to join the History Students Association and now finds himself having more time to attend sporting events since his commute time is cut significantly. But for others, like Dayrit and Mehrens, getting away from the city’s rowdiness is worth the extra miles and longer BART rides.  

© Golden Gate XPress Magazine   Log in