Heating up the typically cool summer months in the San Francisco Bay Area have been the nearly unmitigated mobilizations and solidarity meetings throughout July and August to protest the police murders of a Black man and a white man in two of San Francisco’s transit systems. In an attempt to cool off a planned political demonstration on Aug. 11, BART shut down cell-phone service for three hours throughout the underground downtown transit area, the first time any governmental agency has resorted to such measures in the United States.
Charles Hill, a homeless white man, was gunned down on July 3 by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police for allegedly wielding a vodka bottle and knife on the Civic Center Station platform (downtown SF). Pressured by the mobilization of hundreds at the site of the police murder, BART and the SFPD released footage of the shooting. However, Charles Hill is not visible in the video.
No Justice No BART, a group formed several years ago in the wake of the BART police murder of an unarmed Black man, Oscar Grant III, issued the following demands and posted them on their website: “(1) The release of the platform video. (2) The release of the police reports and a full public investigation into the shooting. (3) At a minimum, the shooting of Charles Hill was unjustified. The officers must be held accountable for their roles in this incident, which is why a public investigation is so important. At a minimum the shooter should be fired and prosecuted.
“Our demands also include total transparency in the investigation of—and accountability for—police misconduct. We want all available information released to the public when there are questions about whether the police acted appropriately, and we don’t want any lies, half truths, creative omissions, or misdirections. Accountability should extend to any BART administrators who cover up police misconduct. Accountability should be both criminal (we want the DA to prosecute cops and BART administrators to the fullest extent of the law), and disciplinary: BART should fire employees who participate in violence and cover-ups.”
Seemingly overshadowed by the BART protests is the murder of 19-year-old Kenneth Harding, who was gunned down on July 16 by the SFPD in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point district, a major Black neighborhood of San Francisco. (Incidentally, this summer marks the 45th anniversary of the Hunters Point rebellion, touched off by the police murder of 16-year-old Matthew Johnson. It was put down by the declaration of martial law by Gov. Pat Brown, father California’s current governor, Jerry Brown.) Harding was shot in the back while running away from being subjected to a Municipal Railway (MUNI) transfer (proof of payment) checkpoint. A protest on July 20 in San Francisco’s Mission District disrupted transit service briefly, during which 43 persons were arrested in the unpermitted street mobilization.
The BART protests garnered national and international attention and protests from defenders of free speech and civil liberties when an Aug. 17 mobilization called by the hacktivist organization Anonymous protested the curtailment, a week earlier, of the constitutional right to political protest when BART disrupted cell phone service.
The ACLU posted a statement on its website: “BART’s actions must be seen in the context of today’s events. All over the world, people are using mobile devices to protest oppressive regimes, and governments are shutting down cell phone towers and the internet to silence them. BART has never disrupted wireless service before, and chose to take this unprecedented measure for the first time last week in response to a protest of BART police. BART’s decision (which cited protection of “public safety”) was in effect an effort by a governmental entity to silence its critics.”
In the midst of the economic meltdown and high level of class struggle taking place throughout the world, repressive government tactics and the apparatus for their deployment are being sharpened. The post-9/11 trend in the U.S. by governments, from local up to the federal level, of preemptive actions in the interest of “national security” and “public safety” has left not a few progressive forces untouched or unshaken by their myriad forms—FBI-spying, wire tapping, FBI-raids, ICE-raids, infiltration of agent provocateurs—of repression and intimidation.
Mass-action tactics, allowing the participation of the broadest sections of the working class and their allies among the poor and oppressed, will be important at a time when governments are not adverse to using their control of the levers of telecommunications to quell political dissent. To varying degrees, activism the world over relies upon internet and cell-phone service, and progressive forces must demand that their right to use this medium be protected.
> The article above was written by Marc Rome, and first appeared in the September 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.