Two Bay Area Rapid Transit subway stations in San Francisco temporarily closed multiple times Monday evening due to a second protest denouncing BART’s decision to cut cellphone service during an unrelated demonstration earlier this month.
The Powell and Civic Center BART stations closed several times throughout the evening since the protest, planned by the group Anonymous, began at 5 p.m. The group also organized a protest Aug. 15 as well as an information leak from the myBART website the weekend preceding the protest.
“We aren’t against protest demonstration,” BART spokesperson Jim Allison said. “The safety of our passengers is our number one priority.”
Though some Berkeley passengers noticed an increase of commuters prior to rush hour, no stations outside of the downtown San Francisco area were closed due to the protest.
UC Berkeley graduate student Elizabeth Schneider, who was travelling on the Pittsburg/Bay Point-SFO train Monday afternoon, said the train was “abnormally, really crowded” by 4 p.m.
As a precaution for the group’s second demonstration, BART released an alert Sunday on its website warning commuters of possible service disruptions and urging them to have an alternate plan if BART services were affected. Throughout the day, intercoms at every station constantly updated commuters with information about service disruptions.
Monday’s demonstration is the latest in a series of protests against the transportation agency this summer. Last week, an Anonymous protest resulted in the closure of four stations — Civic Center, Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero. Earlier this summer, protests led by the group No Justice No BART — formed after Oscar Grant was shot by a BART police officer on January 1, 2009 — were invigorated after the fatal shooting of vagrant Charles Hill on July 3. After BART officials disrupted cell phone service on Aug. 11 to prevent the protesters from organizing, Anonymous decided to step in.
Though BART officials have come under fire from groups like the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter for allegedly violating the First Amendment, BART maintains that its actions were necessary in light of the situation.
“BART’s temporary interruption of cell phone service was not intended to and did not affect any First Amendment rights of any person to protest in a lawful manner in areas at BART stations that are open for expressive activity,” reads an Aug. 20 letter from BART to its customers. “The interruption did prevent the planned coordination of illegal activity on the BART platforms, and the resulting threat to public safety.”
The legality of the transportation agency’s actions in the Aug. 11 protest will be discussed Wednesday by the Federal Communications Commission at a public hearing in Oakland, Allison said.
All photos by Anna Vignet/Senior Staff