From the Open-Publishing Calendar
From the Open-Publishing Newswire
Indybay Feature
Related Categories: San Francisco | Police State & Prisons
Justice Department, Homeland Security personnel present at #OpBART protests
by Ali Winston,
Wednesday Aug 31st, 2011 5:06 AM

Justice Department, Homeland Security personnel present at #OpBART protests

[Officers from a Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response unit in the Civic Center BART station on August 29, 2011. PHOTO: Geoff King]

Amongst the dozens of riot gear-clad San Francisco and BART police officers that have packed Downtown San Francisco streets during the OpBART protests for the past three Mondays, you may have spotted some officers wearing khaki slacks and bulletproof vests, a far cry from the heavy duty helmets and body armor worn by officers from other agencies.

Those lightly-clad officers were part of a Department of Homeland Security Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) unit, an anti-terror unit charged with protecting transportation infrastructure from potential acts of terrorism. VIPR units are run by the Transportation Security Administration. According to the TSA’s website, VIPR teams are terrorism deterrents that “a random, announced, high-visibility surge into a transit agency, in addition to enhancing agency resources during special events.” VIPR teams have been deployed more than 50 times since the program began in 2005, and regularly patrol New York’s Metro North and Long Island Railroad commuter systems.

The United States Department of Justice also had personnel on hand for the recent protests by the hacktivist group Anonymous. Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, confirmed that DoJ sent a member of its Community Relations Service to all three OpBART demonstrations this month. CRS, formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is DoJ’s “peacemaker” for conflicts and tensions stemming from racial or ethnic tensions or civil disorder. Hinojosa also confirmed that CRS staff were present at July and November demonstrations in Oakland over the conviction and sentencing of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Oscar Grant.

Other federal agencies, notably the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Secret Service, contributed to the crowd control actions in Oakland on July 8th and November 2010. It is unclear what role federal agencies are playing in the ongoing conflict between BART and Anonymous, although the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the release of personal information for 102 BART police officers by Anonymous earlier this month.

The Community Relations Service is the Department’s “peacemaker” for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS is the only Federal agency dedicated to assist State and local units of government, private and public organizations, and community groups with preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by .c
Wednesday Aug 31st, 2011 9:05 AM
Thanks for posting that.

Do you have any assessment of the level of power and training of these DHS officers? The federal agencies and their jurisdiction is hard to understand. The other day a news article referred to a special-agent-OIG performing an arrest, and I had to look that up; each executive department has them and I decided that they're good because they catch embezzlement by defense department contractors.

I have seen police cars with a DHS logo at regular city protests, and the antiterrorism and federal designation makes them sound so serious, but there are those cheap recruitment ads on the transbay buses showing young people driving antiterrorism boats around the bay, implying that it is a undesirable job that they're striving to fill like the national guard.
(and there are anecdotal reports like this, of 'security guard' DHS types patrolling the sidewalks near federal buildings ). (Also note how many people with mental disabilities sleep homeless at the sidewalks around the Federal building at 8th st.

There is such a soup of different policing agencies that have the powers of arrest or investigation, but most of us have a hard time understanding anything beyond the regular city police within the venn diagram of agencies and their responsibilities. For example, before the protests of the past two years, I bet a lot of BART riders didn't realize that it wasn't city police or private security guards patrolling the trains, because it typically is SFPD on Muni.

While SFPD was only involved in that one plaza shooting of Harding, SFPD has been a significant part of the demonstration policing.
If I had to draw a scoreboard of NoJusticeNoBART vs. sfpd, I'd have to give SFPD Captain Greg Suhr and BART a big point for his rather easy and effectual strategy of ordering stations closed at the drop of a hat plus convincing all the TV stations to report that protesters were attacking riders and that NJNB's goal was to stop trains (when it never was). I think this worked very well, and was challenging for protesters to respond to.

On the other side, anonymous and NJNB get a huge point for making this story go national and international. People are reading about this in other states, with media far more favorable to us on the civil liberties side.
A second big point for making nearly all riders understand that the BART police exist and have questionable training, when 2yrs ago most people thought they were security guards or city police. Before, when I innocently walked behind gates with a coffee, I got a jolt of adrenaline when I was given a warning of a $100 ticket, or when I emerged with a bicycle at 12th st and realized they issued a ban on bicycles and were ticketing others. Now, everyone remembers these protests when they see the police.
Someone else has to explain the whole bullhorn rule and constitutional angle to me. I know that the gov't can regulate free speech, but they're supposed to reasonably accommodate it. If they can ban yelling in the BART station, why couldn't they do the same on sidewalks below condominiums where people are trying to sleep or enjoy a nice meals and so forth.
by None Given
Thursday Sep 1st, 2011 1:53 PM
The Christofascists murder innocent American citizens, citizens protest, the Christofascists turn off phone service and close stations and then blame their crimes on the citizens protesting against their murders and treason. Amazing.