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Interview: A BART Protest Leader on the Moral Rationale Behind the Protests

| August 25, 2011
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In a column that has been drawing a lot of disdainful tweets today from various Anonymous-related Twitter accounts, the San Francisco Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius writes, in so many words, that he’s not a big fan of the ongoing BART protests.

While protesters may have started with good intentions, their message has been thoroughly muddled. First their complaint was about BART police, and then it was outrage about cutting cell phone coverage. But protesters’ main target has become a bunch of weary commuters who just want to go home. They didn’t do anything – some of them probably agree with the original concerns – but they are fed up…The patience of the public is waning with these protesters, and BART and San Francisco police are finding ways to diminish their impact.

A contrary opinion was voiced at the Special BART Board meeting yesterday by Krystof Lopaur, from No Justice No BART, which is actively involved in the protests and is calling for BART to disband its police force. KQED’s Rachel Dornhelm was among a group of reporters who talked to Lopaur after he spoke during the public comment period of the meeting. Some of the questioning concerned the moral argument for inconveniencing so many BART passengers in order to protest the organization they rely on for transit.

Listen here. An edited transcript follows the audio, which picks up in the middle of the conversation.

Audio: Krystof Lopaur debates the morality of the BART protests

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We have a problem in the Bay Area and that problem is that BART runs its own police force and does a bad job of it. So we’re not saying that the train should be a free-for all; we’re saying that BART should not run its own police department.

What about the idea that you have a place to protest if you apply for a permit?

We’ve never applied for a permit, but we’ve protested outside the fare gates. Our very first protest was outside the fare gates at the Fruitvale station. That was our very first protest that No Justice No BART called.

But do you think it’s fair to inconvenience people who are just trying to get home, who may in fact agree with what you’re saying, but really need to get home because they have to put their kids to bed and that sort of thing?

We hate inconveniencing people.

Then why do it? It doesn’t seem fair, right?

Well it also seems necessary. That’s the history of protest in this country.

But then don’t you lose your moral argument if you’re going to inconvenience people when you think it’s right?

We think if you do a moral calculus, weigh the murder of an unarmed and innocent passenger against the inconvenience of many BART passengers, we still think the right thing to do is the thing that prevents the murder of the unarmed passenger.

If you weigh the murder of an unarmed and innocent passenger against the inconvenience of many passengers, we  think the right thing to do is the thing that prevents the murder.

But who gives you the right to have that power, to decide whether these passengers are going to be inconvenienced or not?

Nobody gives me the power.

But you’ve taken the power.

I have not. People are organizing around this issue and it’s a legitimate issue to organize around. It’s an inconvenience for protesters to protest. We are all BART passengers, we all have lives, we all haves jobs. We don’t want to be protesting. We’re doing it because we feel a moral imperative to do something about a situation that’s literally a health and safety hazard for the public. And for us.

Are you affiliated with the group Anonymous?

I’m not affiliated with Anonymous.

What do you make of what they’ve done?

I think they’ve drawn a lot of attention to BART. BART decided to take on Anonymous for some reason. They decided to do the cell phone shutdown. People responded all over the world. I don’t think they expected it; I certainly didn’t expect this kind of a response to what BART did. But they got themselves into this and Anonymous responded.

And BART’s response to this crisis is the same as it has been in every situation. They try to duck responsibility and they dig themselves in further. They could have defused the entire situation by saying it was a mistake, it didn’t work, it won’t work in the future and we’re never going to do it again. And that part of the situation would be over; their beef with Anonymous would effectively be over.

What they’ve done is basically provoke protesters and provoke the public rather than addressing their concerns.

What’s the history of No Justice No BART?

It formed right after Oscar Grant was shot. The demand for disbanding the BART police was articulated then and we’ve continued to maintain that BART should not be running its own police department.

Here’s video of Lopaur’s scathing statement about BART during the public comment period of yesterday’s special BART Board meeting to discuss the disabling of cell phone service on Aug 11 in order to disrupt a planned protest.

Organizers are calling for another protest on Monday at 5 p.m.

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Category: Law, Transportation

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  • AY

    So if BART disbands its police force, then whose jurisdiction does BART fall under? Oakland? They don’t even have enough staff to enforce traffic laws. Are we expecting that police from individual cities will give up their officers to protect BART passengers? Because they won’t. They can’t afford it, and how would that even work, logistically?
    I’m not saying that what has happened in these two incidents is right, but it’s also not an issue that is exclusive to BART law enforcement. So how do you protect all of the passengers who are victims of robberies and assaults on the BART line without a dedicated police force? (No, they don’t just enforce fare jumpers and people who bring drinks onto the train.)

  • Steamboat

    AY, Krystof and the rest of the protesters don’t have any solutions–they don’t want to fix anything. They just want to spew their moral outrage when the system fails. All systems fail–it’s how those systems respond to failure that make the difference. The shooting of Oscar Grant was wrong–the cop served time and BART cops got more training. BART shut down cell phones and they are going to create policy around that moving forward. Charles Hill was shot which remains under investigations. Krystof wants to claim success for all changes that the system makes, and poke at all of its failures.

  • krystof

    AY, when BART was formed, the original idea was to contract out security to local police departments. This plan was scuttled because local police chiefs did not want to put in the time to make a plan.

    Anyway, most transit agencies (and most other similar smaller government entities) don’t have their own police departments. Of those that do, there is plenty of precedent where they have disbanded or completely torn down and reorganized their police departments.

    This information is out there, if you are honestly curious about it you can dig it up for yourself. The info itself is quite interesting and illuminating.

    But its premature to speculate exactly how a security void left by the BART police might be filled. Frankly, we might find ourselves siting on a security surplus as a result of them being disbanded. Who knows. Anyway, currently the BART Board refuses to investigate or seriously consider the issue of disbanding the cops. There will be plenty of time to make a concrete plan once they start demonstrating some common sense.