|Riot police stood at the ready on the train platform as protestors|
began blocking train doors while taunting officers and BART
officials. --Nick Bilton/TheNew York Times
Civil rights groups and activists have spoken out against BART's actions and accused the agency of violating First Amendment rights. BART officials say they acted to ensure the safety of commuters and was therefore acting within their legal rights. On yesterday's edition of Morning Edition on NPR, Eugene Volokh, a law teacher at UCLA, agrees: "The important thing here is that BART was limiting cellphone service on its own property, and property that the Supreme Court before labeled as what is called a nonpublic forum. It's not a park, it's not a sidewalk, [it's] not a place that's traditionally been devoted to public expression."
The argument really lies in safety (or at least the illusion of it) versus suppression. It's an argument I'm familiar with hearing often after covering countless protests and demonstrations at UCI. Should a group of angry students be allowed to enter the administration building? I've always understood why UCIPD set up barriers and locked the doors: because people don't respond well to anger. Sure, you're making your point clear by proclaiming you're "fired up, can't take it no more," but realistically, nobody will let you enter a space when you come bearing that message, especially not one that is operating during business hours.
Nobody was arrested at Monday's BART protest, and there was only one arrest during my time as a reporter during student protests. I'm not trying to deny the existence of police brutality, and I do believe there is a real problem associated with that in this day and age (see the 2009 student protest at UC Berkeley), but I also don't think the police should be criticized for protecting hundreds and thousands of morning and evening commuters who rely on BART.
|Mary Ann Vechio, 14, lets out a scream over the body of|
Jeffrey Miller, who had just been shot and killed by the
Ohio National Guard. The photo was taken by
John Filo and won the Pulitzer Prize.
The Kent State massacre changed the youth movement dramatically. It fueled the anti-war cause and intensified fear of authority and governments. Much like the People's Park protest in 1969, it was a clear display of suppression by those in power. You can't read the accounts of those events or see photos and not feel anger and resentment.
But you can read about Kemper and the UCSF protest and not feel anything. It was shocking, sure, but watch the video I linked above and you'll see the panic in Kemper's face as the students surround him. They back off immediately when he pulls out the gun, but say he didn't? The argument from students is that they wouldn't have done anything serious to Kemper and were just taunting him. Then I suppose the same could be said on Kemper's behalf, that he had no intention to use his weapon on any student. These are all statements of speculation from both obviously biased parties, and no one can say for sure what couldawouldashoulda happened had somebody chosen to attack first.
Do I think BART should've blocked cellphone service? No, and I do think it violated the rights of travelers, but I also can see why they did it. Fear is intense and can provoke even the most docile person to cause harm when faced with the unknown power of a collective group. It's what causes police officers to don riot gear and set up barricades--because you don't know what can or will happen when people gather and protest with passion for their cause.
08/18 updates, in slightly related news: