Members and supporters of the “Black Friday 14” rallied ahead of a BART board of directors meeting Thursday morning to demand that the board urge prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the group of activists who shut down BART service by chaining themselves to trains in West Oakland last year.
The protesters were charged with trespassing on railroad property, a misdemeanor, for the protest on the morning of Nov. 28, 2014, that shut down BART service between Oakland and San Francisco for more than an hour.
The demonstrators sought to draw attention to police killings of black men, part of a wave of protests that swept the nation in the wake of several killings, including in New York and Missouri.
Organizer NTanya Lee said Thursday morning:
“We’re here because Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has unfairly targeted these freedom fighters with criminal prosecution and we’re not having it.”
About 100 supporters gathered outside the BART board meeting near Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Brass band music filled the streets surrounding the Kaiser Center before a program of speeches, chants and songs. After the rally, they crowded into the board meeting.
Protesters previously overwhelmed a BART meeting in January, asking the board to withdraw any requests for monetary restitution for the service disruptions. The board relented the following month, voting 5-4 to ask the district attorney’s office not to seek restitution.
But now protesters are asking BART board members to ask that criminal charges be dropped. Lee said:
“We’ll keep coming back until the charges are dropped for the Black Friday 14.”
After hearing about two hours of comments Wednesday morning, two BART board members briefly addressed the demonstrators, although the board had no intention of taking up the issue today.
Board vice president Tom Radulovich said he had previously supported a resolution to drop the criminal charges, but it didn’t have enough votes to pass. He said there needs to be a conversation on how to have a more just BART system, but:
“… It’s hard to have that conversation with those charges hanging over our heads.”
But board member John McPartland said he thinks that allowing the protesters to go without criminal charges could have unintended consequences:
“This board’s action will set a model to be emulated across this nation.”
McPartland noted that if the board held them harmless for the disruption, more protesters could be emboldened to block highways and rail service, potentially resulting in an accident causing injury or death.
But the protesters repeatedly questioned how the district attorney’s office could prosecute the disruption to train service while police officers who kill unarmed men frequently go unprosecuted, telling the board members their perspective may not be remembered well in the future.
David Turner III, a student organizer at University of California at Berkeley, drew connections between the actions of the Black Friday 14 and the protests of the civil rights movement in the 1960s:
“We should remind folks in the board meeting — what would you have done in the 1950s with Rosa Parks? What would you have done in Birmingham? … They’re standing on the wrong side of history.”
After the rally, dozens of supporters and members of the Black Friday 14 themselves signed up for public comment at the board meeting, speaking for hours to urge the board to withdraw any support for criminal prosecution of the protesters.
One of the women charged in the case, Mollie Costello, said that while the protest was not legal, it was just:
“Blacks having to give up their seat on the bus, that was legal but it was not just. … We had to do something illegal to get everyone’s attention.”
The protest that day also included dozens of other activists who stood on the platform while the 14 protesters, chained arm-to-arm, locked themselves to two trains at the West Oakland Station. Others gathered outside the station, chanting, dancing and praying.
The protesters are next scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 10.