British Prime Minister David Cameron found himself compared to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and other rulers of authoritarian Arab countries for proposing to “ban those suspected of planning criminal acts from using social media and other digital communication tools” after reports surfaced that rioters in London and other British cities had used Twitter, Blackberry messaging and other social media tools to organize violence. But BART — San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit subway system — already went ahead and did a ”MuBARTek,” shutting off cell service at four “select” stations from 4:00pm to 7:00 pm last Thursday after learning that a protest under the “No Justice, No BART” banner might be held.
As it turned out, no protest was held, but BART still shut down the service, a move that could lead to unflattering comparisons of BART with the Chinese Communist government, who, after anonymous calls appeared on the Internet for a “Jasmine Revolution” inspired by the protests in the Middle East, flooded areas where demonstrations were to be held with police in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere.
As Al Jazeera reports, protesters had planned to demonstrate to condemn the killing of Charles Blair Hill, who was shot by BART police officers on July 3 after they received complaints about a drunken man. Eight days after Hill’s death, protesters shut down three BART stations Civic Center, Powell Street and 16th Street Mission stations July 11; trains drove through the stations without stopping. Police said that Hill had lunged at them with a knife; Hill was shot in the torso. BART transit officers already came under heavy criticism in 2009, after a white officer, Johannes Mehserle, shot an African-American man, Oscar Grant, while Grant was being restrained on the ground with his hands behind his back. Due to huge public outcry, the trial had to be held in Los Angeles; Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than two years.
In response to BART’s shutdown of cell service, the hacker group Anonymous launched a campaign, OpBART, to overwhelm it with faxes and emails. Posts also started to appear on Twitter with news of the shutdown using the hashtag #muBARTek, a “mash-up” of Mubarak’s name and BART.
As Al Jazeera says, BART has offered varying explanations, with possibly different legal ramifications, for how the shutdown was carried out:
In its first statement, BART said it had asked mobile service providers to stop their service. Then, a BART deputy police chief told the local online news outlet SF Appeal that BART turned off the services itself, as it is allowed to do under its contracts with the providers — Sprint, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. About the same time, BART changed its official statement — which was posted on its website – to say that “BART temporarily interrupted service.”
Photo by nicolas.boullosa
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