BART mulls community service for Black Friday protesters

BART is looking into the possibility of community service rather than financial restitution for 14 protesters who shut down the transit system at the West Oakland station on Black Friday, agency officials said this week.

Protesters have said the agency was seeking up to $70,000 in restitution from the 14 protesters, who chained themselves to a BART train the morning of Nov. 28 to protest decisions to not charge police officers who killed suspects in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.

Supporters started an online petition that has gathered nearly 8,000 signatures as of today. In response to the petition drive, BART General Manager Grace Crunican said Wednesday she was interested in community service or restorative justice programs as an alternative to financial restitution and has spoken to District Attorney Nancy O’Malley about that possibility.

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

Crunican said:

“Restitution is every crime victim’s right under the California Constitution. … In other situations involving property damage or where substantial harm has been caused to the BART System, the BART Police Department has participated in the restitution process. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office leads the state in seeking restitution for crime victims.”

BART Director Rebecca Saltzman, whose district encompasses much of Alameda County, said in a statement today that the BART Board of Directors was not involved in the decision to seek restitution but she supports community service as a potential punishment:

“I understand the importance of nonviolent civil disobedience, especially when the injustices being protested rise to the level of several unarmed African Americans being killed by police officers. … I also am a strong proponent of public transportation, and I think it is critical that our public transportation systems remain reliable to all who depend on them.”

Saltzman continued:

“For anyone whose purposeful actions cause the shutdown of BART, there should be consequences, and those consequences should be fair.”

The petition circulated by organizing groups BlackOut Collective and Black Lives Matter calls not only on the restitution demand to be dropped but criminal proceedings be halted altogether, arguing that the punitive action will have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of activists to hold protests.

The protesters have argued that, nationwide, black-led actions are being more harshly punished than other protests. The “Black Friday 14” is due back in Alameda County Superior Court on Feb. 4 at 9 a.m.