SAN FRANCISCO

BART Protest Scheduled For Thursday

09/08/2011 01:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 08, 2011

On Thursday, a group of anti-BART activists plan to physically block the fare gates at the Powell Street BART station with the intention of requiring the agency to allow passengers to enter and exit the system for without having to pay.

A post on website of the group No Justice No BART explains:

Since BART has been very clear in insisting that we should "protest outside the fare gates", they will have a choice. If we mobilize enough people, in order to keep riders moving into and out of the station, they will have to open the emergency exits and let folks ride for free, just as they do for all sorts of big sporting events, antiwar protests, and even past No Justice No BART protests.

If, as has happened in past protests, the Powell Street station is shut down, the group pledges to move to a different station and employ a similar tactic. No Justice No BART intends to keep a live stream of what stations it is currently attacking on its Twitter account.

This change in strategy likely stems from growing public discontent with the weekly protests triggering regular station closures. By assembling just outside of the gates, the demonstrators hope the public will view any station shutdowns exclusively as the fault of BART officials and not the protesters themselves.

The protests are in response to the shooting death of Charles Hill at the Civic Center BART station earlier this year and the agency's subsequent decision to shut off cell phone service during later protest of said shooting.

The ultimate goal of the protests is to disband BART's internal police force and instead have the agency contract its security out to other local police departments in a manner similar to SamTrans or AC Transit. Critics say that BART lacks the civilian leadership structures to effectively oversee a police force while BART officials feel that the skill set required to maintain security throughout the system is too specialized to expect local police officers to be able to adapt to without the exhaustive training all BART officers have already received.

BART has spent over $300,000 on the protests—with the majority of the expense going to pay for overtime for the BART police officers providing security. It's a ironic twist that protesters dedicated to shutting down the BART police department are, through their protests, requiring the transit agency to devote even more of their resources to that very department.

As the price tag for the protests grows, some within the agency are looking to discourage further expensive service disruptions by sharply increasing the fines paid by individuals arrested during the protests.

On Aug. 22, police arrested 35 protesters, mostly on charges of failure to obey a peace officer and for pedestrians illegally being in the right-of-way. Those charges carry fines of $200 and $114 respectively for first-time offenders, according to San Francisco Superior Court.

"Right now, it’s just a minor infraction that can be absorbed,” said [BART Board of Directors President] Franklin. "We need a bigger deterrent to make sure these protests don’t regularly affect the lives of our normal commuters."

Thursday's protest is scheduled to begin at 5pm.

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