The National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (NLGSF) calls on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) to respect passengers' and community members' civil liberties at the demonstration planned for Monday, August 22, and all other times.
First and foremost, the BART Police should provide transparency regarding the killing of Charles Hill and should stop shooting people, especially unarmed and incapacitated individuals. Second, BART should apologize for its disruption of cell service on August 11th and not repeat this unconstitutional action. Finally, BART should recognize passengers' right to freedom of speech on platforms and in trains.
On January 1, 2009, BART police fatally shot Oscar Grant in the back, and immediately attempted to cover up this criminal act by seizing cell phones. Grant was unarmed, face down on the ground, and handcuffed at the time. On July 3rd of this year, BART police fatally shot Charles Hill within 30 seconds of arriving on the scene, and without trying any other means of controlling the situation.
It is appropriate for the community to respond to these crimes through free speech actions and other forms of protest. Public streets, thoroughfares, and transit hubs have historically been primary areas for the exercise of free speech and assembly. BART should not silence free speech -- especially speech critical of the misconduct of its own officers.
The BART decision to terminate cell phone service during public protests is an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech precisely designed to censor criticism of the deadly use of force by BART police. This dangerous precedent uses a thin pretext of security to shut down a form of communication upon which we all increasingly depend, whether to communicate with fellow activists or with 911.
As a public agency, BART should act with more transparency and accountability. While recent legislation designated an auditor and formed a citizens police review board, this board lacks real strength to hold officers accountable, having only the power to make recommendations.
The protest on August 11th and subsequent protests have been completely nonviolent. In fact, it is overreaction by BART officials that has been the primary cause of disruptions for passengers, not the demonstrations themselves. Another protest is planned for Monday, August 22nd. The National Lawyers Guild calls on BART officials to respect the human rights and civil liberties of all community members.