BART Director: “Speculation About Protest Doesn’t Warrant Cell Shutdown”

BART’s board of directors met today in a special open session to address the August 11 suspension of cell phone service, which the majority of directors soundly decried, putting interim BART general manager Sherwood Wakeman in the hot seat.

During the meeting BART experienced

technical difficulties

and did not provide live feed.  How um, odd….An earthquake was also felt during the meeting.

The following was gathered off Twitter feeds and news reports of the meeting.

BART police chief  Kenton Rainey told the board that he learned about the August 11 planned protest on

a blog webpage

and made to decision to shut off cellphone service for the riders’ safety. In a dreadful spin about the August 11 incident, BART spokesperson Linton Johnson had said

There are a multitude of groups … flying in from all over the country. They want to do surprise attacks, basically, on BART riders.

Weirdly BART doesn’t consider the full platforms caused by baseball games and drunken concert revelers to be

a threat to the safety of disabled passengers

A”no protests” card was pulled out by a BART employee during the meeting, while an advocate for the disabled informed the BART board of directors that shutting of cellphone service put people at risk–without texts, deaf people can’t get emergency info.

One cellphone-using BART rider said that in his opinion the claim that any 1st amendment right was violated

is specious and trivializes our 1st amendment freedoms

However, other speakers disagreed.  Michael Risher from the ACLU commented that

Just because something can pass constitutional muster doesn’t mean it’s right.… we hope in the next few weeks BART will develop a policy that they won’t turn off cell phone service except in most extraordinary of circumstances

and went on to say that he hoped that

the board takes opportunity to reaffirm free speech rights.

A representative from, a citizens’ news service pointed out that

The tactic of shutting down communications sets bad precedent, could spread to other police forces, this is historic.

Krystof (one name) from No Justice No BART stepped up to the mic, saying

I’m the guy that comes to your meetings.  I’m not anonymous to you!  Your counter-protest strategy is failing miserably…We don’t want you to improve free speech policy. We already have a policy called the Constitution..We don’t need your permission to protest. We are going to do it anyway. Our free speech zone is wherever we are standing,

adding that his group would continue to protest.

One speaker, Twitter handle dto510, aksed the board to vote regarding the cellphone shutdown:

I spoke to BART Board noting evidence of safety threat on Aug 11 was wrong, and asked for vote on cellphone shutdown.

The BART board of directors weighed in. While at the top of the meeting, BART’s assistant General Manager of Operations Paul Overseir said a small hiccup in service could lead to overcrowding and danger on the platforms (again baseball games, oh heck football games, let’s just say it!) and BART chief counsel Burrows pointed out that there are designated free speech areas, the BART board of directors seemed generally unhappy about the cellphone shutdown.

Board member Robert Raburn called the August 11 action imprudent adding:

This will become a landmark case. We must protect 1st amendment. Speculation about protest doesn’t warrant cell shutdown.

Board member James McPartland (on speaker phone):

This is the start of a national discussion on authorities’ power to shut off cellphones.

Board member Joel Keller:

People have a right to cellphone service but BART also has to deal sometimes with situations of imminent danger. When two rights collide, the right to safety and the right to free speech, we should err on the side of not allowing the suspension of cell phone service. Once we allow cell phone service, we have to protect that right.

(the right to safety is not in the Constitution, fyi.)

Board member Lynette Sweet asked the staff to explain the chain of command that lead to the suspension of cell service, and BART Police Chief Rainey replied:

I am responsible for the actions of August 11.

BART’s interim general manager Wakeman says he ultimately authorized Aug. 11 decision on a recommendation from Rainey, and that the FCC was not notified. Nor was BART’s board of directors

Sweet asked about ADA compliance, if was that part of the equation. Wakeman replied

There are alternative means of communication for the  disabled.

Sweet said she has not been quiet on the issue because it is such a big issue, and that the board not being involved in the August 11 decision and the shooting of Charles Hill  shows that BART has not learned any lesson from the shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009. Sweet also said:

I agree with Krystof. Our counter protest strategy is not working.

Board member Tom  Radulovich said that the shut down of cell service was unjustifed and that BART should admit their over reaction and mistake regarding cellphones

even if it’s hard

Sweet concluded

There’s a way to have both safety and open communications.

BART board president Bob Franklin, who said that people have an immediate distrust of BART, still defended Aug. 11 cellphone shutdown, saying

It wasn’t about silencing protesters

much to the outrage of people following the live tweets. No really, then what was it about?

Franklin also said:

I supported Chief Rainey’s tactic to shut down cell service because of safety. We can’t take that chance.

That kind of double speak and attitude will lead to more protests.

@pixpls tweets and #opBART were invaluable for this story.

Photo: YourAnonNews

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Lisa Derrick

Lisa Derrick

Los Angeles native, attended UC Berkeley and Loyola Marymount University before punk rock and logophilia overtook her life. Worked as nightclub columnist, pop culture journalist and was a Hollywood housewife before writing for and editing Sacred History Magazine. Then she discovered the thrill of politics. She also appears frequently on the Dave Fanning Show, one of Ireland's most popular radio broadcasts.