A public-relations bus ride by BART the board of directors meant to highlight new late-night transit service was interrupted by a surprise protest by black lives matter supporters Friday night.
The demonstrators demanded criminal charges and $70,000 in restitution be dropped against the so-called Black Friday 14.
The group of 14 protesters had halted BART service for three hours in November by chaining themselves to a train at the West Oakland BART station. Mostly blacks, their protest of police brutality was spurred by a grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in the death of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown.
The charges against the 14 protesters are now in the hands of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, whom some of the demonstrators sought to influence Friday.
BART directors Rebecca Saltzman and Nick Josefowitz invited riders on Friday to Virgil's Sea Room in the Mission, where the two drank with BART riders and answered questions about late-night transbay transit. At 1:30 a.m. Saturday, they rode the new 822 AC Transit bus from Mission and 24th streets to Oakland. Also aboard were black lives matter movement supporters, who raised their voices and demands to a captive audience.
“As long as we're on a bridge, I'd like to talk about building bridges,” Cynthia Crews, a member of San Francisco's Local Agency Formation Commission, said loudly as the bus drove across the Bay Bridge. “I'd like to ask about black lives matter.”
“Right now, you could say you'll write a resolution,” to drop charges against the Black Friday 14. Seven or so other protesters aboard the bus echoed their support.
“Especially with Oscar Grant being shot, while unarmed, by BART cops, this is the context in which you're being asked this,” protester and Oakland resident Ray Himmelman said. She glanced at two BART police officers, who rode the bus to escort the directors.
The bus continued along the bridge as the surprised board members contemplated their answers. Saltzman was first to speak.
“I think we need to have a balance and make sure things are fair,” Saltzman told the protesters. “There wasn't a trial, I'm not a judge and jury.”
“But are you willing to back a resolution?” Himmelman asked.
“About the financial restitution?” Saltzman asked.
Himmelman nodded, to which Saltzman replied, “Yes.”
As for Josefowitz, he told protesters that “the general manager met with folks and advised to roll back the restitution. But ultimately, he said, “It's up to the district attorney.”
According to some news outlets, BART General Manager Grace Crunican asked the Alameda County district attorney to lower the $70,000 charge to community service for the 14 Black Friday protesters.
“Halting BART service and inconveniencing hundreds and thousands of riders is a crime,” Crunican wrote in a statement, “and BART officers acted in accordance with their duty to uphold the law by issuing citations.”
Though Saltzman said she would support a resolution to roll back the protesters' charges, she told The San Francisco Examiner she was uncertain if she would author it herself.
A petition urging BART board of directors President Thomas Blalock to drop the charges against the Black Friday 14 has so far gathered 9,823 signatures on iamcolorofchange.org.
One of the lead organizers behind the local black lives matter movement, Alicia Garza, told The Examiner that the Black Friday protest was effective.
“It highlighted the issues facing black communities from Ferguson to Oakland,” she said.
And as for the new AC Transit late-night bus line — which provides after-midnight service to supplement BART — it arrived in Oakland on time. But for Garza, the arrival of justice is her priority.
“We still hope that BART will stand on the side of truth,” she said, “and drop the charges and the demand for $70,000.”