“Many people were inconvenienced by the Montgomery bus boycotts. Do you think Rosa Parks should pay restitution for that?” Mollie Costello hectored the Bay Area Rapid Transit board at a recent hearing. Costello is one of the Black Friday 14 — 14 protesters arrested Nov. 28 for shutting down the West Oakland BART station and four of five transit lines for three hours to protest the killing of unarmed black men by police officers.
Protesters of those arrests, with the slogan “No Business As Usual,” have three demands:
1) The BART board drop criminal charges against Costello and her 13 cohorts.
2) The BART police force dissolve itself.
3) The board provide cheap fares for low-income riders.
Apparently, “black lives matter” activists believe they should be able to break the law and not face criminal charges. They think they have a right to trample on the rights of others to use public transportation to go home, get to work, visit friends and go shopping. And after police go through the hassle of arresting them, they believe they are owed a speedy release.
How do these activists expect others to take them seriously? They laud themselves for engaging in civil disobedience and then demand special treatment that shields them from consequences. It never seems to occur to them that if they don’t want to go to jail, then they should stick to lawful peaceful protest.
They see themselves as freedom fighters — as if they were courageous individuals braving a ruthless power structure bent on oppressing them.
To the contrary, BART union leadership showed up at the hearing to demonstrate its support of the Black Friday shutdown. I’d like to think that BART workers put transit first, but their labor representatives put protest politics first.
Rather than shut down critics, the BART board worked to accommodate protest. The board dedicated the first three hours of the hearing to public comment and allotted three minutes for each speaker.
If activists stepped out and missed board President Tom Blalock calling their names, he kept calling their names so that they would have an opportunity to express themselves. The board even rearranged its agenda so that public commenters wouldn’t have to sit through more mundane BART business.
At the end of the meeting, board member Rebecca Saltzman promised to introduce a resolution at the board’s next meeting to ask Alameda County District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley “to drop all of the charges,” as well as any effort to seek restitution.
I’d like to think that Saltzman’s resolution will fail and that the BART board will stand up for the paying public, but her offer shows that activists aren’t exactly standing up to a hostile establishment.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican had floated the idea of seeking $70,000 in damages for income lost because of the protests. To make the assessment more digestible, BART also suggested prosecutors could allow protesters to pay the system back with “community service.”
Black Friday 14 fans, take umbrage. They had a point when they complained of being singled out to pay restitution when BART never sought restitution for income lost during the BART transit workers strike. But now they want special treatment — 14 “get out of jail free” cards — for themselves.
There is something precious in Black Friday 14 members’ righteous belief that they should not be inconvenienced to make up for the cost of inconveniencing users of public transportation. They shouldn’t be sentenced to cleanup duty, supporters argue. “Where I grew up, it would be called slavery. It’s working for free,” exhorted Oakland City Councilwoman Desley Brooks.
Like other co-believers, Brooks maintains that shutting down the West Oakland station “was community service.”
On Jan. 21, The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice will not bring charges against Darren Wilson, the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown.
It was a grand jury’s refusal to charge Wilson in November that sparked riots in Ferguson and sometimes-violent demonstrations in the Bay Area. At the BART hearing, activists called Brown’s death a “murder.”
With the Times story, however, the shooting appears more like an act of self-defense. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, an African-American not afraid to call out racial profiling, ordered an independent investigation into the shooting, and there is not enough evidence to charge Wilson. To the contrary, the Times reported, evidence supported Wilson’s version of events.
That makes Black Friday something of a vigilante exercise. What true believers saw as a glorious fight for social justice looks, in this light, more like a mob bent on intimidating authorities until they prosecute a man whose only crime was choosing to defend himself.