More than 30 people gathered at Embarcadero Station Saturday at noon to protest a BART police stop of an African American man who was eating on a train platform in Contra Costa County.
A video of the confrontation, filmed at Pleasant Hill Station on Monday morning and released on social media Friday, shows BART police officers detaining and handcuffing a man, identified on social media as Bill Gluckman, for eating a breakfast sandwich on the station’s platform.
The video went viral on Facebook and Twitter Friday evening, garnering more than 25,000 reactions and prompting citizens from San Francisco and beyond that to take a stand against over policing.
Led by Kelly Groth, policy advisor at climate-change nonprofit NextGen, and by District 8 BART Director Janice Li, the protesters brought dozens of breakfast sandwiches, snacks and pastries to the train platform on Market Street, and ate and socialized peacefully for about two hours.
Officials wearing phosphorescent vests looked on from a distance, but did not intervene.
“I continually see police overstepping their power on BART,” said Groth, who witnessed first-hand the 2009 BART police fatal shooting of African-American 22-year-old Oscar Grant. “Now it’s time to put an end to it.”
Last month, Groth was one of many to protest against BART’s proposed ban on panhandling and busking, which was dropped by the agency’s Board of Directors Oct. 24. She said she hopes Saturday’s protest has a similar impact.
“I know that the BART Board of Directors in more recent years really has listened to people’s public comment,” Groth said. “I really do think that [protesting] and contacting the board of directors makes a difference.”
Listening and actively participating in the protest, Li described the gathering as an “awesome” community effort and expressed amazement at the number of people who showed up given less than one day’s notice.
“People were really shocked at what they saw. And that’s what motivated them,” Li said, before releasing a stream of tweets humorously calling on protesters eating on the platform.
During the protest, Li said she supports amending the California Penal Code to allow eating and drinking on BART platforms and trains. However, she insisted that the issue should not be a priority for either the BART board or police department.
“Enforcement is a function of the way resources are allocated [versus] what the laws are. Not every broken law is enforced,” Li said on Twitter about an hour before the protest began. “[For] me, there are WAY bigger issues at BART than enforcing no drinking/eating.”
Many protesters agreed that the issue should not be overblown. However, they said the officers involved in the incident should be brought to justice.
“You know it’s a little thing,” said John Rimen, a retired carpenter from Oakland who rode BART down to Embarcadero Station for the protest. “The guy didn’t get beaten up or shot. But it’s one of those little things that just pisses me off.”
Several protesters pointed out that BART police officers selectively choose when to enforce the food ban, and often pick on racial and ethnic minorities.
“I eat on Caltrain every morning. At least half of the time I’m on BART I’m drinking coffee or eating something. I’ve even spilled coffee,” said another protester, Cliff Bargar, while eating an egg, cheese and pastrami sandwich. Yet, Bargar said, he’s never been cited or even reprimanded by police because he is white.
“Police were abusing their power. And we can’t encourage BART to continue to do this,” Bargar said. Then, he turned to his fellow protesters and raised his sandwich: “Keep eating!”
Rapper and busker Tone Oliver, who first posted the video of the incident on Twitter and contributed to its widespread popularity on the platform, joined the protest around 12:40 p.m. with his three-year-old son.
“What the guy was doing, that’s just another example of a police officer who probably has prejudice or bias opinions about the guy,” Oliver said. “That just can’t be silenced, that officer needs to be punished, that citation needs to be taken away.”
Oliver said this is just one of many incidents that exemplify BART police’s regular targeting of African American citizens.
Just last summer, Oliver said his friend and busker Andrew Bernard, also known as “Drew Money,” was arrested for reportedly defending a 13-year-old African-American girl involved in a physical confrontation with a male white BART police officer.
Bernard was arrested and booked into San Francisco jail on suspicion of battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest among other charges, The Examiner reported in late August. Oliver said he later received notice that Bernard had been banned from all BART platforms and trains – his primary place of work – until 2020.
“He got in between an officer and a little girl, and they singled him out, they picked on him… And they took away his livelihood,” he said.
“There’s corruption in the police force. And the only solution is to call them out on it,” echoed another protester, Danielle Baskin. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
BART did not respond to The Examiner’s request for comment.
If you have an opinion on this issue, District 8 BART Director Janice Li encourages you to contact BART’s Board of Directors or submit a public comment at the board’s next meeting at 9 a.m. on Nov. 21.
Editor’s note: This story incorrectly attributed a quote. The quote has been removed.