At 9:45 a.m., BART police carried barricades down the escalators to the Civic Center BART platform. “This,” said one, “is getting to be a regular thing.”
Today will be the third Monday in a row that people will converge on the Civic Center BART station to protest the July 3 fatal shooting of 45-year-old Charles Hill by BART police. There may also be people protesting BART’s decision to shut down cellphone service to thwart organizing at an earlier protest, and there may be GLBT protesters denouncing Anonymous, one of the key organizers of the protests, for distributing a BART spokesman’s personal nude snapshots. And there may also, at this protest, be BART commuters protesting the protest.
Even though most BART riders say they understand why people are protesting for the third Monday in a row, most have also had enough. Several commuters said they were leaving work early in order to avoid the hassle.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Lydia S, a commuter leaving the 16th Street BART station. “Three times, three protests. One time, I understand, but it’s too much.” She got caught in the protest last Monday, she added, when hundreds of protesters swarmed Civic Center BART. When she realized that all four downtown BART stations were closed, she walked back to her office and waited. The protests finally ended at 9 p.m., with 45 arrests — most made during a final sweep in front of the main library at Civic Center.
“It’s not fair for commuters,” said another woman, Anna W. “I don’t think they will get people’s support.”
“I don’t think the tactics that I saw the protesters using will solve anything,” said J de Salvo, who also witnessed last week’s protest. “Protesters are right, so I’m not against it,“ he said. “I just don’t agree with their communication strategy.”
Others understand why people are gathering for another protest.
“I can see why people are protesting,” Arthur Edelstein said. But, he added, “I think it’s important to get as much of the public on board. They have to have a good strategy to avoid confrontation. They have to make sure commuters don’t get angry.”
“You can only shoot so many people before people get a little upset,” Delson Barette said. “I can understand why they’re protesting. I think it sucks that cellphone service gets shut down.”
A BART employee who asked not to be named said that fewer protesters are expected this evening. However, he said, “BART hired extra staff and I hear SFPD is upping their presence too.”
Around the Mission, many were not sure why there was a protest at all.
Jason Neil, who was selling wares near Valencia and 19th streets, said he didn’t know why the hacker group Anonymous was organizing the Monday rallies, but added, “I am against police controlling the flow of information.”
Kimberly Prette, another Mission resident, was one of just a few who were aware that the protests were connected to Hill’s death, and to the 2009 fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by BART police.
“Some of that video footage that I saw, like [Oscar Grant] getting shot, at point blank like that, it just doesn’t make sense,” Prette said. “Then the second shooting…it’s just one on top of another…it just looks like a pattern.”
Dr. Rupa Marya, an assistant clinical professor at UCSF who had treated Hill in the past (and who is also a singer for the Mission-based band Rupa and the April Fishes), said that she has noticed that protesters have strayed from what she says is the real issue: Hill’s death.
Marya wrote an open letter, published by Mission Loc@l on Sunday, in which she was critical of the treatment of her former patient by BART police, and now by distracted media coverage.
“The media is portraying the annoyance of the protests to commuters more than the unbelievable horror that an innocent man was shot dead by the force that is meant to protect us,” she wrote.
Marya said she met Hill several years ago while working at San Francisco General Hospital.
“I remember seeing him several times in the hospital and then a few random times on the street, when I would run into him and stop for a moment to say hello and see how he was doing,” Marya said in an e-mail to Mission Loc@l.
“I wrote this letter because I am deeply disturbed by what has happened and the public response — which has been more concern about cellphones and commutes than the fact that a voiceless man was shot,” she said.
Marya said that she will be participating in a peaceful protest this afternoon outside the Civic Center BART station, and urged others to stay aboveground as well, so as to not disrupt the commute.
In its call for a fourth protest today — for the third consecutive Monday — Anonymous appeared well aware of the confusion, so much so that it put out a statement on Sunday underscoring its own position: “Let us be perfectly clear: THE BART OPERATION AND THE PROTESTS SURROUNDING IT SHOULD BE FOCUSED ON THE CONTINUING BRUTALITY AND UNACCOUNTABILITY OF THE BAY AREA TRANSIT POLICE,” the group wrote. ”STAY ON MESSAGE. THE PROTESTS ARE ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY FIRST, AND EVERYTHING ELSE SECOND.”
The post also specifically asked protesters to remain outside the Civic Center BART station, instead of descending onto the platform and risking station closure.
“Ideological inconsistency will ultimately do more harm than good,” the Anonymous statement continued, “even if the conflicting voices are individually beneficial.”
Justine Quart and Ryan Loughlin contributed to this report.