Appalling: BART Shuts Down Cell Service to Quash Protest
Thursday night, a protest was planned in the Bay Area Rapid Transit to protest the latest police shooting of an unarmed man. But protesters found themselves without cell service, and now a BART official admits that cell service was shut off to quell the action—violating citizens' First Amendment rights. CS Monitor:
Because July protests against BART police shootings had turned violent, BART officials took the unusual step to protect public safety, they said. The tactic may have worked: No protests took place Thursday night at BART stations.
Temporarily shutting down cell service and beefing up police patrols were "great tool[s] to utilize for this specific purpose," BART police Lt. Andy Alkire told Bay City News Friday. The protests, planned for sometime between 4 and 8 p.m. in transit stations, would likely have disrupted service for many of the 341,000 daily BART passengers.
This may be the first time a government agency in the United States has ever deliberately disrupted cellphone service to defang planned protests, criminologist Casey Jordan told CNN. “I haven’t been able to find another incident in which this has happened,” she told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux Friday.
But isn't digital jamming exactly the same thing governments in Egypt, Syria, and elsewhere this Spring were doing? Is the BART acting like an oppressive regime? Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, thinks what BART did was dubious. He told the Monitor, "it's a very disquieting development. Here you have a government agency indiscriminately closing down all kinds of speech in order to prevent a perceived possibility of violence."
Read the full piece here.