Transit agency arrests 4 San Francisco protesters

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ? Transit police arrested four protesters and briefly closed two subway stations during the evening commute Monday during a small demonstration over the Bay Area Rapid Transit’s tactic of cutting wireless communication to quell a previously planned protest.

It was the second such protest in seven days at the same Civic Center station, where transit police shot and killed a transient July 3, which was the original target of demonstrators. Both protests were over the BART action.

The protest Aug. 15 was larger, noisier and prompted the closure of four downtown stations as more than 300 protesters marched through downtown San Francisco. That day, a phalanx of police officers and several helicopters protected businesses that shut early along the protest route on Market Street.

The latest protest drew about 100, but there was no police phalanx guarding the fast-food restaurants, payday loan store and other establishments that remained open above the station.

“I don’t care about the cell phone stuff,” said Tony Wallace, a homeless man standing in front of the payday loans store watching the protesters after BART police closed the station below and forced everybody on the streets. “I do care about them shooting people. They are out of control, for sure.”

Despite the smaller turnout, transit police showed less tolerance and patience than the previous demonstration.

“This has been an ongoing process,” BART Deputy Chief Daniel O. Hartwig said of the decision to make arrest protesters for the first time.

Hartwig said the four will be charged with trespassing on rail transit property. BART prohibits demonstrations on its platforms, citing safety concerns.

Carey Lamprecht, a volunteer with the National Lawyers Guild observing the protests, said those arrested will most likely be cited and released. She said the charges are minor infractions or misdemeanors most likely punished with a fine if found guilty.

The two closed stations were reopened after about an hour.

The social activist group Anonymous called for the protests Monday and last week in response to BART shutting wireless service at four of its stations Aug. 11.

The transit agency cut wireless service that day after learning organizers of a protest of the transient’s shooting death were planning on issuing last-minute instructions through social networks and text messaging designed to disrupt the rush-hour commute.

The Aug. 11 protest failed to materialize after the BART tactic was implemented, and the commute went smoothly. But the transit agency drew worldwide criticism and is now at the center of a heated debate over free speech, social networks and public safety.

“I don’t even own a cell phone, but what BART did was wrong,” said David Kubrin, 72, of San Francisco. “We are seeing elements of a police state more and more everyday.”

The nine-member BART board of directors has scheduled a special meeting Wednesday to discuss the policy. BART police kept the wireless service on during the last two protests.