BART hits Black Friday demonstrators with $70,000 bill

Activists arrested during a demonstration at West Oakland BART on Black Friday say they are now being asked to pay $70,000 in restitution fees, a demand they are asking the transit agency to rescind.

On Thursday, the activists, led by local civil rights organizations the BlackOut Collective and Black Lives Matter, issued a petition addressed to the president and vice president of the BART Board of Directors calling the restitution fees “punitive, retaliatory, and unconstitutional.”

More than two dozen black activists chained themselves to two trains at the West Oakland BART station on Nov. 28, shutting down service for more than three hours. Those arrested are now referring to themselves as the “Black Friday 14.”

As of Friday evening, the petition had more than 2,800 signatures, just shy of a 3,000-signature goal. BART spokesman Jim Allison said he could not confirm that the agency was requesting restitution of $70,000 and didn’t know if the agency would be releasing that information publicly.

In a statement, BART officials said the agency:

“… supports the rights of free expression. … Just yesterday, New Year’s Day, the district hosted a vigil to honor the life of Oscar Grant, drawing hundreds of community participants. BART is aware of the petition drive asking that the demonstrators be held harmless for their actions.”

The statement adds:

“As a public agency fully funded by riders and tax payers, we must never lose sight of the agency’s mission to provide public transportation to the citizens we serve.”

The Alameda County District Attorney’s office charged the fourteen people arrested on Nov. 28 with misdemeanor trespassing on a railroad property and is seeking restitution, according to court documents.

Robbie Clark, an activist and member of the BlackOut Collective who participated in the demonstration, said the $70,000 is the total amount shared by the group, meaning each person would pay $5,000:

“The time that we’re in right now is a real moment where we have to take some bold steps to bring attention to state violence against black people to and to step up and stop it.”

A community organizer by profession, Clark said she has been involved in a number of direct political actions and demonstrations, but none quite as powerful:

“That day was really incredible. … We really wanted to do something that would be effective and we did want to stop business as usual. That was our goal.”

Karissa Lewis, another participant in the action, described the fee as “punitive” and said the group is:

“… not interested in paying one single dime. … BART is saying (the fee) is for lost revenue … but there have been so many other protesters who have been cited and released after stopping transportation on freeways or buses or whatever.”

Lewis said the demonstration followed a call for solidarity actions rooted in local issues that was put out by organizers in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests erupted following the August shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, at the hands of a white police officer.

Clark said that, as with demonstrators who shut down the Mall of America on Black Friday in Minnesota, black-led actions are being more harshly punished than others:

“We’re seeing a pattern in terms of unreasonable fines or restitutions that are being used to suppress black protesters specifically. … This is not a precedent we want to be started, so we’re going to fight to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Lewis said the group is also looking at other legal avenues to fight the fees should the board not rescind the restitution demand. The group is due back in Alameda Superior Court on Feb. 4 at 9 a.m., Clark said.

The petition can be found at http://iam.colorofchange.org/petitions/bart-directors-when-it-comes -to-ending-the-war-on-black-communities-which-side-are-you-on