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East Bay | Immigrant Rights

NLGSF Questions BART Decisions During Immigrant Rights Action
by Carlos Villarreal
Thursday Nov 6th, 2008 12:09 PM
Hundreds of young activists were prevented from traveling to San Francisco from the East Bay when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) decided to close multiple stations to prevent these young people from boarding. The NLGSF and 15 other organizations have sent a letter to the BART Board of Directors questioning their extreme measures that violated these individuals’ constitutional rights and requesting information pursuant to the California Public Records Act.
Fifteen Civil Rights/Human Rights Organizations Join Letter to BART Board of Directors

Hundreds of young activists were prevented from traveling to San Francisco from the East Bay when Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) decided to close multiple stations to prevent these young people from boarding. The NLGSF and 15 other organizations have sent a letter to the BART Board of Directors questioning their extreme measures that violated these individuals’ constitutional rights and requesting information pursuant to the California Public Records Act.

Full Text of Letter

November 6, 2008

President Gail Murray
BART Board of Directors
P.O. Box 12688
Oakland, CA 94604-2688

RE: BART Station Closure on Oct 31, 2008, and Public Records Act Request

I am writing on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and undersigned organizations to express our grave concern regarding BART’s decision to close three stations on Friday, October 31, 2008. The station closures prevented approximately 400 East Bay youth from reaching a planned “Stop the Raids” demonstration at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in downtown San Francisco.

We question BART’s rationale for closing the stations. In other situations when ridership suddenly increases, BART opens the fare gates and provides free service. Examples include Oakland A’s and Raiders sports events. Significantly, BART has previously opened the fare gates to accommodate large numbers of anti-war protestors.

Here, high school and college students were attempting to get to the demonstration to express their views against the immigration raids that have terrorized their communities. Although BART spokesman Linton Johnson cited public safety as a reason the closure decision was made, there is no indication that any of the alleged fare evaders presented any threat to the safety of any person. Rather, it would appear that the event was treated differently due to the young age, primarily Latino ethnicity, and/or the political viewpoint of the students who were attempting to travel to the demonstration, in violation of the students’ constitutional rights. Following the station closures BART continued to intimidate and chill free speech by posting security guards with dogs at the stations and unnecessarily sending BART police to the San Francisco demonstration. BART should be using its resources to promote public transportation, not to stop young people from using the transit system to participate in positive social change.

Although BART has attempted to justify the actions by claiming that the students tried to jump the turnstiles, at least one of the stations was closed before the students even arrived. A legal observer on the scene reports that a BART employee confirmed there had been no fare evasion at the Fruitvale station when the employee received the order to close the station, and this was before the students got there. It is worrisome that only certain stations were closed considering the decision to close them was made before protesters arrived – they all are located in neighborhoods known to have more people of color: Richmond, Fruitvale, West Oakland.

BART’s mission is to provide public transportation. BART failed in that mission on Oct. 31. BART’s decision to close stations, not the actions of the students, led to the inconvenience experienced by other passengers. BART could have responded by opening the gates to allow all passengers, including protestors, to get to their destinations. In fact, it seems to be BART’s usual policy to open the fare gates in situations with heavy demand such as when large crowds are using the system to reach planned demonstrations, sports or other events, as well as on other occasions such as “Spare the Air” days. However, on this occasion when young people of color planned to protest immigration policies, BART took extreme, punitive and discriminatory measures that delayed all passengers.

Pursuant to the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code, § 6250 et seq.), the NLGSF requests copies of all documents that refer or relate to BART’s policies for opening fare gates. The Public Records Act requires that the requested documents be produced within ten days.

In addition, the NLGSF and undersigned organizations request that the BART Directors instruct BART personnel to apply their discretion to waive fares in a non-discriminatory and First Amendment promoting manner.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss this matter.

Sincerely,

Carlos Villarreal
Executive Director

Co-signers

Akonadi Foundation

Asian Law Caucus

California Partnership

Chicano/Latino Agenda Office at the University of California, Berkeley

Chinese for Affirmative Action

Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco

Community Legal Services, East Palo Alto

Equal Justice Society

Equal Rights Advocates

The Greenlining Institute

Japanese American Citizens League

La Raza Centro Legal

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Taller Tupac Amaru

Trangender Law Center
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