Battle over First Amendment waged in San Francisco

Here and Now

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A battle over First Amendment freedoms is being waged in San Francisco. On July 3rd, Bay Area Rapid Transit police shot and killed a transient man they said lunged at them with a knife in a station. The incident sparked various protests, which BART attempted to quell.

In August, officials from BART cut cell phone service to some stations to try to stop a planned flash mob protest they said was going to interrupt service, which caused more protests.

Then, on September 8, the transit police handcuffed and detained journalists they said were interfering with their handling of a protest. All this comes as other cities try to figure out how to handle sometimes-violent flash mobs organized via social media, such as the ones that robbed stores in Philadelphia and trashed neighborhoods in London.

Critics say BART has now violated four of five freedoms in the First Amendment: speech, assembly, petition and free press. San Francisco is already changing its policies, but the FFC is reviewing whether BART broke the law in shutting down its cell phone service.

Marvin Ammori, a First Amendment legal specialist who blogs about free speech and technology and a legal scholar with the New America Foundation, told Here and Now that by law, BART is not allowed to turn off its phone service without notifying the FFC.

“One argument is that BART violated the federal law that requires keeping the phone service open, generally,” Ammori said. “And the other is that BART violated the First Amendment of the Constitution which protects the freedom of speech.”

View video of statement by BART officials following the arrest of demonstrators for violating section 369i of the California Penal Code at Powell St. Station:

More about BART shooting and protests:
>The Takeaway: Bay Area Rapid Transit Vs. Protesters, Round 2


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