NEW YORK- The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) was met with an Anonymous-led protest yesterday at its Civic Center station after rising discontent over a three-hour cellphone service shut down on Thursday. The service disruption occurred to deter any antipolice protest in reaction to the shooting of a knife-wielding man on July 3.
The hacktivist group, Anonymous, issued a statement regarding the move for a protest against BART on Saturday:
"In the Bay Area, we've seen people gagged, and once more, Anonymous will attempt to show those engaging in the censorship what it feels like to be silenced. #OpBART is an operation geared toward balance - toward learning. You do not censor people because they wish to speak out against the wrongs the wrongful things occurring around them. The Bay Area Rapid Transit has made the conscious decision of ordering various cell phone companies to terminate services for the downtown area inhibiting those in the area from using cell phones - even in the case of an emergency."
Protesters coordinated and followed the rush-hour protest through Twitter, using the hashtag #opBART, as well as following the UStream video that was shared by Anonymous. Protesters were met by a large number of police officers in riot gear at the Civic Center, where the protest were scheduled to occur.
Freelance journalist and Bay Area resident, John Osborn, photographed the event and described the police presence, "A block away from Civic Center, SFPD had a command center set up, where I counted at least 50 officers, two empty buses and at least 20 vehicles. During the protest though, the police presence was minimal, with about six motorcycle cops following the march."
The protest, which lasted between two to three hours, counted about 150 protesters in its ranks. It began at the Civic Center station but quickly dispersed to others, causing the closing of four stations. Osborn added that, "BART's tactic to prevent protesters inside the stations led to a cat-and-mouse chase, where protesters went from station to station only to find the gates sealed.This invariably caused the BART system to shutdown, at least partially, for hours."
Angela Chen, a San Francisco native and college student at Boston University, said she followed the protest from afar and said that, "it seemed to start out strong in the beginning when they were marching out from Civic Center station. But after we walked all the way down Market Street, through the Ferry Building and turned around, the protest started to seem directionless. People started to disperse and nobody seemed to really know what to do next."
Commuters were blocked off during the march down Market Street, which had some exchanging choice words with the protesters. Some commuters, such as University of San Francisco student Julianna Cano, avoided using BART system at all. "I steered clear [of BART]," Cano said and instead became the designated driver for friends who became stranded at work.
Osborn added, "I think there is also a certain degree of protest exhaustion in the City, mainly because these kinds of actions happen regularly, just not as widely observed by [the] media."
BART has seen rising discontent following the protest but continued to defend their decision to cut cellphone service during a press conference on Tuesday. In a statement released August 12, it stated, "BART temporarily interrupted service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform." Request for an interview with BART were unanswered by BART spokesperson Linton Johnson.