BART took criticism Friday after a video began circulating of a confrontation between officers and a passenger eating a breakfast sandwich at the Pleasant Hill BART station on Monday around 8 a.m. (Courtesy photo)

BART police call for ‘apology’ from board member who joined protest over sandwich citation

First came the sandwich, then came the fury.

Shortly after BART General Manager Bob Powers issued an apology Monday for the way BART police handled a confrontation with a man eating a breakfast sandwich, the police union demanded an apology of its own.

The union called on BART Board of Directors member Janice Li to apologize in a blistering statement issued Monday after she participated in a sandwich-eating protest over the weekend.

Li attended the Saturday protest where demonstrators ate food en masse on the Embarcadero Station platform to criticize BART for detaining and ticketing a man for eating a sandwich in a video that went viral Friday.

“Li is undermining the authority of BART police by advocating lawlessness and making our job as law enforcement officers that much harder,” Keith Garcia, president of the BART Police Officers Association, wrote in a statement.

“Our officers deserve greater respect,” wrote BART Police Managers Association President Jason Ledford, who added that the BART board had previously approved the no-eating rule in the first place.

Powers on Monday joined the chorus criticizing the citation, issuing a statement saying he was “disappointed” in how it was handled.

BART police cited the man, who is identified as Bill Gluckman on social media but who identified himself to ABC7 as Steve Foster, of Concord, for eating on the platform at the Pleasant Hill BART Station last week.

“I apologize to Mr. Foster, our riders, employees, and the public who have had an emotional reaction to the video,” Powers wrote.

The incident has received national news coverage, with BART widely condemned for what some have called a heavy-handed reaction.

Li, the BART board director who attended the protest, declined to comment on the condemnation by the BART police union. Earlier in the day, however, she said she was “surprised” to see Powers’ “strong” statement against the incident.

“This story has continued to capture the public’s imagination,” she told the San Francisco Examiner. “It’s sustaining international attention.”

Largely, she said, that’s because of the unspoken context behind the citation — that black and brown people tend to be cited at higher rates than other people in police work nationally, and also at BART.

“It does seriously concern me that another young black man was involved in a police incident” at BART, Li said. “I’m not going to talk about this incident in particular, but using BART police to intensely enforce eating and drinking is not making our system more safe, reliable or clean.”

Kelly Groth, an event organizer and policy advisor at climate-change nonprofit NextGen, and District 8 BART Director Janice Li give out sandwiches on the BART Embarcadero Station platform to protest BART’s food ban on Saturday Nov. 9, 2019. (Caroline Ghisolfi/Special to the S.F. Examiner

While Powers, the BART general manager, did express concern at the arrest, he also described a tough situation for the BART Police officer.

Powers said he watched video of the incident. When the officer moved to issue a citation of the man, “the individual refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out [sic] the entire engagement,” Powers said.

The BART police union made a similar point.

When the officer approached the man eating his sandwich, he “refused to comply and continued to curse at the officer,” the union wrote in its statement. “Our officer should be applauded for his professionalism and restraint,” Ledford said. “The public has told us time and again that they’re concerned about the lawlessness on BART. Director Li should apologize to the department for not allowing our officers to do the job the public deserves.”

Powers added, “the officer was doing his job, but context is key.” That context, Powers wrote, is that while eating and drinking inside the paid area is indeed banned, enforcement of those infractions “should not be used to prevent us from delivering our mission to provide safe, reliable and clean transportation.”

Instead of citing passengers at all times, Powers wrote, “we have to read each situation and allow people to get where they are going on time and safely.”

Story updated Nov. 11, 2019 9:30 p.m.

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