Commuters’ opinions split on Monday’s BART protest

Commuters inconvenienced by rowdy protests at several BART stations in San Francisco on Monday expressed mixed reactions to the demonstrations this morning.

The protesters gathered on the platform of the Civic Center station late Monday afternoon to protest the death of Charles Hill, 45, who was shot at that station by BART police on July 3 during a confrontation in which police said he wielded a knife and a broken bottle as weapons.

Several commuters arriving at the Civic Center station this morning said they left work early on Monday in anticipation of the protest, but others were left waiting on crowded platforms, or forced to take an alternate routes when the Civic Center, Powell Street and 16th Street stations were closed.

Rebecca Hathaway, a 29-year-old case manager from Berkeley, said she first heard of the shooting because of the protests.

“It kind of took me by surprise, I didn’t know there was any kind of incident,” she said. “I wish they had picked a different time, though I can see why they would when there’s traffic.”

Erica Kesel, a 35-year-old fundraiser from San Francisco’s Mission District, said she understands the protesters’ motivations but thinks that their tactics were inappropriate.  

“I don’t understand protesting on the platform where people are inconvenienced,” she said. “I do understand it’s a serious issue but I think there’s a more constructive way.”

Despite the inconvenience, several commuters expressed support for the demonstrations.

“Civic Center was closed so I had to walk to Powell,” said Nate Allbee, a 31-year-old political consultant.

He said, however, that he didn’t mind.

“I think it’s important that people’s voices are heard,” he said. “I’m definitely on the side of the protest.”

Essie Nelson, a 32-year-old Oakland resident who works at Alcatraz, also said she supports the protests.

“There should be a big protest,” Nelson said. “It’s ridiculous how they tried to justify that, them being sober and him being drunk. It’s going back to a police state in a way.”

The BART officers involved in the confrontation were responding to a report of a “wobbly” man on the platform with an open container of alcohol, according to BART.

The protests were organized by No Justice No BART and Oakland for Justice, two groups that came together after the BART police shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.

Organizers said that because of those shootings and others, they believe that BART police should be disbanded.

The protesters began their demonstration at Civic Center on Monday, then moved around to other stations, which caused the closure of the 16th Street and Powell Stations later in the evening. It at times became rowdy, with a scuffle on a train and a protester climbing atop a train at one point.

One person was arrested by San Francisco police, but BART police made no arrests.  

BART spokesman Linton Johnson criticized the protesters on Monday night.  

“These fringe groups have apparently shown no regard for the work of their fellow citizens and, of course, the customers on the train, the elderly — all those folks who need Civic Center station open and rely on the station,” he said.

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