Transit police arrest San Francisco protesters

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ? Transit police arrested at least eight protesters, closed two subway stations and tailed dozens of demonstrators as they chaotically roamed downtown San Francisco Monday.

The protest started shortly after 5 p.m. at the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency’s Civic Center station with about 50 demonstrators protesting the system’s decision to cut wireless service in its San Francisco stations earlier this month to quell another protest.

By 8 p.m., the crowd had grown to more than 100 and was roaming up and down San Francisco’s Market Street, which runs above BART’s stations. BART kept two stations closed throughout the night and San Francisco police reported demonstrators throwing firecrackers, overturning garbage cans and attempting to start a fire.

SFPD also requested that an upscale mall on Market Street close its doors as protesters passed.

The demonstration was the second in seven days in protest of BART’s cutting wireless service on Aug. 11 in a successful bid to disrupt a protest that day over transit police shooting and killing a transient on July 3.

The social activist group Anonymous organized the last two demonstrations.

The protest Aug. 15 was larger and prompted the brief closure of four downtown stations as more than 300 protesters marched through downtown San Francisco.

Monday’s protest lasted longer as protesters kept San Francisco and BART police busy keeping them from blocking traffic and approaching subway stations. Small groups splintered from the main marchers, making it difficult for police to monitor them all.

“I don’t care about the cellphone 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 onto 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 on the subway platform 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.

San Francisco police arrested four more during the march above ground.

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 cellphone, but what BART did was wrong,” said David Kubrin, 72, of San Francisco. “We are seeing elements of a police state more and more every day.”

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.