Saturday, August 13, 2011

Despot Depots

US railway blocked phones to quash protest

"A rail transit provider in the United States disabled mobile phone services to prevent a planned protest on Thursday, attracting criticism and unflattering comparisons to crackdowns on dissent in the Middle East.

Demonstrators in northern California's Bay Area had planned a protest to condemn the shooting death of Charles Hill, who was killed on July 3 after Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers responded to complaints about a drunk man at a station in the city of San Francisco.

Hill was fatally shot in the torso - police said he had lunged with a knife - and protesters responded eight days later with a demonstration that shut down three San Francisco BART stations.

BART's police force had been criticised before, in 2009, after a white officer responding with several colleagues to a complaint restrained an unarmed black man on the ground of a train platform and then fatally shot him in the back. That shooting also prompted protests, and the officer served less than two years in prison after being convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

In a statement released on Friday, BART said organisers planned another protest over the Charles Hill shooting during busy commute times on Thursday, which "could lead to platform overcrowding and unsafe conditions".

"Organisers planning to disrupt BART service on [Thursday] stated they would use mobile devices to co-ordinate their disruptive activities and communicate about the location and number of BART police," the statement said.

"BART asked wireless providers to temporarily interrupt service at select BART stations as one of many tactics to ensure the safety of everyone on the platform."

James Allison, the deputy chief communications officer for BART, told Cnet News that mobile services were disabled in four San Francisco stations from 4pm to 7pm local time."

"Platform overcrowding" Sure.


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