Chaos and confusion ruled the evening commute Monday on BART for stranded riders, as officials sporadically shut down and reopened downtown stations for hours in an attempt to foil protesters.
Click on the photo at right to view a slideshow of the protest.
However, officials never shut down cell service — an action they took at a smaller protest last week over a police-involved shooting in early July. The cell-service shutdown elicited widespread outrage and prompted the hacker collective Anonymous to call for Monday’s protest. The group also gained access to myBART.org on Sunday, revealing the personal info of at least 2,400 members.
The protest began just before 5 p.m. when several dozen people convened on the platform at the Civic Center station. It remained calm for a while. Protesters carried signs and some held phones up to their ears, repeating, “Can you hear me now?”
The station shutdowns were triggered about half an hour later as crowds began to chant, “Disband the BART police!” Two protesters stood in the doorway of an East Bay-bound train for about a minute. As police were heading to remove them, a BART rider shoved the two people out of the doorway and the train shut its doors and departed.
Within moments, police shut down the station and ordered the protesters to disband or face arrest. As groups began to march along Market Street, BART officials shut down the Powell, Montgomery and Embarcadero stations.
For the better part of two hours, passengers were allowed to disembark trains and stations, but were not allowed to enter them, forcing commuters to seek other ways home. Some sat on the steps down to the BART stations, simply waiting out the chaos. Others walked from station to station, chasing rumors — many originating from BART officials themselves — that they had reopened.
Sudeep Verma of Dublin, who works in the Financial District, walked up Market searching for an open station. He said he didn’t know what the protest was about, but hoped it was something worthwhile.
“It makes a lot of inconvenience,” he said.
Tourist Nathalie Feichtinger of Austria lugged a large suitcase through shouting protesters. She and her friend had just flown into the Bay Area and took BART to The City.
“First they dropped us at 16th Street. Then we went to Powell. Then finally they let us come to Civic Center,” she said. “We are just confused.”
As the protests wound down and stations began to open around 7:30 p.m., a tired-looking Linton Johnson, a BART spokesman, wouldn’t comment on why the call was made to shut down all the stations, or why there was such poor communication to customers about which were reopening.
Asked why they chose not to shut off cell service, he only said, “We debated that to death.”