Protest on July 11 at Civic Center by Nilanjan Nag

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Most Mission residents interviewed this morning reacted angrily to BART’s decision to avert a protest last week by cutting off cellphone reception at four BART stations, and residents seemed well aware of plans for tonight’s protest at Civic Center.

“That was what regimes in the Middle East did,” said Jennifer Lee, a 26-year-old marketing manager. “I think that is not something BART should do.”

The protest planned for August 4 was in reaction to an incident on the platform at the Civic Center BART on July 3, when BART police shot and killed 45-year-old Charles Blair Hill, a transient who had been drinking on the platform.

BART police alleged that the homeless man threw a vodka bottle at them and had a knife, but bystanders have said that the shooting was unnecessary.

A July 11 rally to protest the shooting disrupted BART service at the Civic Center, Powell and 16th Street stations.

When plans began last week for a second protest, BART officials stepped in and cut off cellphone service at four stations.

That move appears to have stirred up new interest in tonight’s protest, which has developed rapidly into one in which Hill’s shooting is secondary to the civil liberties issue.

Over the weekend, a group calling itself Anonymous protested BART’s cellphone shut-off by hacking into a BART website and publishing customers’ names and information. Anonymous also began alerting protesters to the Monday night rally at Civic Center.

Residents were more upset by BART’s action than by the Anonymous hacking.

“That is a total violation of freedom of speech,” said Brandon, a 26-year-old who is working with a startup technology company, referring to the shutdown. “They said it was for safety issues, but how’d they know that? The protest hadn’t even started.”

He asked how people could call 911 if the police became aggressive.

One of the lone voices not critical of BART officials was Rita, a 45-year-old stay-at-home mother.

“I don’t think it is bad. If it was only inside the station, then I don’t see the issue. There is no good reception down there, anyway.”

Most, however, focused on the implications for civil liberties.

T.J. Snahl, a 28-year-old student at UC San Francisco, said that BART’s actions sound “like ‘1984.’”

He added: “It is really important for people to be able to communicate.”

Diana Romano, a 22-year-old waiter, said, “That was not cool. I don’t think I will make it to tonight’s protest, but I support their cause.”

“Someone has to stand for our rights. Many of us don’t have time.”

Humberto Hernandez, a 39-year-old cook, was more measured than others. “It was a bad thing to do, but maybe they had a good reason.”

A San Francisco police spokesperson told Mission Loc@l that as a precaution officers are on standby for the Monday evening protest.

Octavio Lopez Raygoza

Octavio Lopez Raygoza hails from Los Angeles. Lured by the nightlife, local eateries, and famous chilaquiles, Raygoza enjoys reporting in the Mission District. Although he settled in downtown San Francisco,...

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  1. As an American, your “right” to “free speech” is not absolute (i.e., you can not say whatever you want wherever and whenever you wan). Instead (on a very simplistic level) so long as the governmental restriction is not targeting a specific viewpoint and content of speech, the regulation is generally permissible if it serves an important governmental interest. For example, neo-nazi organizations have the right to march through a Jewish neighborhoods (cannot restrict based on viewpoint) however, the governmental can restrict the march to day time hours (content/viewpoint neutral based time, place, and manner restrictions).

    Here the ban on cell phone reception is both viewpoint and content neutral. Although one can argue that the proposed outage coincides with a protest and thus is targeting said protest’s viewpoints, because the outage is across the board (i.e., affecting everyone’s cell phone) it is more accurately framed as a legitimate time place and manner restriction.

    No civil liberty is absolute. None. Understanding the scope of your rights is the first step in protecting them.

    1. They are restricting the access of free communication between people in order to make the protest smaller.. So this is not a neutral stance by the government.

      1. that is what the government is doing in the neo nazi example above. you don’t have a clear understanding of what the governmental can and cannot do legally. you are expressing a normative desire rather than a critique based on how things are currently.

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