‘Black Friday 14’ supporters pack BART meeting

Supporters of demonstrators who shut down BART service for several hours on Black Friday packed a BART board meeting Thursday night and called on directors to ask the District Attorney’s Office to rescind a demand for $70,000 in restitution.

On Nov. 28, more than two-dozen black activists chained themselves to two trains at the West Oakland BART station, shutting down service for more than three hours. Those arrested have since referred to themselves as the “Black Friday 14.”

Court documents show the district attorney’s office is seeking restitution in bringing misdemeanor trespassing charges against the 14 protesters.

More than a hundred people who were not allowed inside the meeting due to capacity constraints gathered in the lobby, singing, holding signs and chanting slogans made popular over the last several months of demonstrations to protest the killings of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers.

Inside the meeting, public testimony continued for more than three hours, ending in the protest song, “Which side are you on? (We’re on the freedom side)” and chants of “Pass the resolution, drop the restitution.”

Rather than respond to the demonstrators and their supporters after the public comment period, BART Board of Director Thomas Blalock initially attempted to continue with the agenda, prompting more songs and chants from the audience. Blalock then called a 15-minute recess while the audience continued to sing and clap.

When the board returned, Board Director Rebecca Saltzman said she would introduce a resolution to ask the District Attorney to rescind the restitution demand. She was seconded by Board Director Zakhary Mallett.

Saltzman said:

“I will work with my colleagues on the language of the resolution. … We want to thank you for coming tonight.”

Her proposal was met with applause and chants of “We will win” as several dozen people flooded out of the room. When they got outside, the group made a large circle in the lobby and held hands.

Rheema Calloway, one of the Black Friday 14, said she felt good about the director’s pledge:

“It’s definitely been a long road. … From getting hauled off to jail at Santa Rita. For many of us it was the first time being arrested for something that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

The group of speakers who came to support the Black Friday 14 ranged from a white, self-proclaimed “cappuccino-loving yuppie” to union advocates to experienced activists to people who participated in the demonstration and those who did not.

They varied in age from pre-teen to seniors. Many invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, who both disrupted public transit systems as an act of civil disobedience.

Molly Costello, one of the members of the Black Friday 14, said:

“How do you think we got a seat on the bus? Do you think Rosa Parks should have paid restitution?”

Others spoke of a legacy of discrimination on the BART system, including the 2009 killing of Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man from Hayward, at the Fruitvale BART station and the taking of property by eminent domain to build the West Oakland BART station.

National Lawyers Guild attorney Anne Weills called the demonstrators “heroes”:

“This is an assault and it’s clearly discriminatory. … Let alone demand restitutions from these people, you should be giving reparations.”

Weills said. Several speakers questioned why the Black Friday 14 was being targeted and asked to pay restitution or perform community service when other protesters arrested on BART property are not facing the same charges.

One demonstrator described how her twin sister, who is white, was arrested after walking out on the freeway and said all charges were dropped against her. At least two people spoke in support of the restitution fees and said BART was within its right to enforce issues of public safety.