Saturday, August 13, 2011

More Progressive Values from San Francisco

Normally, when a government resorts to heavy-handed methods of suppressing protests against its activities, we take the side of the protesters. In San Francisco, on the other hand, respect for personal liberty is such a rarity that protesters are often no more sympathetic than the city they live in. As an example, this week San Francisco gained something in common with Hosni Mubarak's Egypt and the riot-torn United Kingdom: disrupting cell phone service to deter protests. Yet we still can't bring ourselves to side with their opponents.

The story begins with the July 3 shooting of Charles Blair Hill, who was carrying a knife, by BART police officers. This led to a series of protests, including one on July 11 in which the Civic Center, Powell St., and 16th St./Mission stations were closed. The group behind that protest, which calls itself "No Justice No BART", had planned another one for this past Thursday, at which they planned to use their phones to coordinate stoppages of trains and keep each other apprised of the presence of BART cops. Apparently, BART chose to head off this protest by shutting down its underground cell network.

This was, of course, not cool: the city has the right to prevent violence on its property, but as long as peaceful protest is an enumerated Constitutional right, San Francisco has no right to pre-emptively head it off. Yet if the July 11 protest was any indication of what was supposed to happen Thursday, this was not going to be a peaceful protest. Protected protests generally don't involve trapping uninvolved people on subway trains, as occurred in July. As with so many things in San Francisco politics, there really aren't any good guys in this matter.


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