Questions & Aswers

Why does BART believe it needs a police department?

It’s an interesting question, because BART’s police department was formed as an afterthought. When BART was getting started, no one wanted to form a BART police department. Area police chiefs were asked them to form a plan for extending their services to BART, but they didn’t want to do the work, so lawmakers were asked to change the BART act to allow BART to make their own police department. They acquiesced, BART cobbled a department together, and the nightmare began.

Today, BART ignores that little bit of history, and makes half-hearted justifications for why they need their police department. Basically, these justifications all boil down to “having our own police department allows us to serve you better”. Obviously, we have to disagree about the quality of this service, but the same exact argument could be made for BART having its own fire department, or ambulance service. Emergency services are not BART’s forte, as we can see, and we think the public needs to help the agency realize what a crappy job they have done with the police department, so they get rid of it.

Why disband the BART police and not disarm them?

Police Department Bart and facts

The former Mayor of San Francisco, Willie Brown, came out in favor of disarming the BART police. He wrote an editorial in the SF Chronicle claiming that they are not real cops and don’t need guns. Which is kind of the point. If BART police did not have guns they would not be police officers anymore (which would be fine with us). The demand to disarm the BART police is the same thing we are pushing for, just a roundabout way of saying the same thing: BART should not run a police department.

Is the demand to shut down the BART police reasonable?

There is plenty of precedent. Plenty of transit agencies do not have police forces, and contract out police services to outside agencies. Also, many of the nation’s Housing Authority police departments are small, unaccountable, notoriously brutal organizations (like the BART police). Many of these police departments (at least 6) have been eliminated in cities such as Los Angeles and Baltimore often citing budgetary concerns in addition to problems with performance. Eliminating the BART police department is a very reasonable decision that can be made by the BART board just as it has been made by Public Housing Authorities in other cities.

In their entire history, BART police have shot 6 people, and we know that at least 5 out of 6 were problematic. And by problematic, we mean they were mostly outright murder (see the history of BART Police killings below). Well, the same exact argument could be made for BART having its own fire department, or ambulance service, which most of us would find ridiculous. So why do we accept that argument when is comes to having a police department? It’s even harder to take that argument seriously, because BART’s police department doesn’t “serve us better”. They don’t “protect and serve us”, period.

How do we know that the shooting of Charles Hill was not justified?

We strongly suspect that the BART Police version of events is a lie.

  • The night of the shooting, Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig told the media that no officer was hurt. The next day, we were hearing one officer was suffering from “cuts and bruises”. That became a single “minor cut”. However the BART Police refuse to say how the cut occurred. Witness accounts suggest that Charles Hill never even got close to the BART Police.
  • The media was originally told that Charles Hill was called in to BART police as a danger to himself, a wobbly drunk with an open container. But the Police account says that when they arrived he was brandishing a broken bottle and a knife and using it as a weapon. If you saw a man with a broken bottle and a knife you would not describe him as a drunk with an open container. As the story develops, we are learning that the bottle broke because Hill dropped or threw it.
  • The police killed Charles Hill and radioed the shooting in, all within 60 seconds of encountering him. If you listen to the tapes of the call, the officer is not flustered in the least, and speaks very matter of factly. If he at any point feared for his life in that minute, it does not show in his voice.
  • Every eyewitness report we have heard disputes the facts provided by BART police and suggests that passengers were quite upset and did not think that Charles Hill did anything to justify being shot.
  • BART police claim that they can’t release hard evidence because it could taint the investigation, but they are releasing key innuendo that purports to justify the shooting. They refuse to release the video, which would either corroborate or contradict their story. We get no photos of the knife or crime scene or police injury. No details about cause and effect, what actually happened. However, we do get told 10 different versions of “he had a knife” without saying how it was purportedly used. And most tellingly, they somehow saw fit to immediately release the race of the victim and the police officers. Wouldn’t this unfairly influence the memory of witnesses? Seems they are happy to taint the investigation if they can preempt some kind of imagined criticism.

Regardless of the specifics of the Charles Hill shooting, BART has shown in its followup to the Oscar Grant murder, that it is incapable of being trusted with a police department. For example, remember that cop that hit and kneed Oscar, and called him a “bitch ass n****” as he was shot? Tony Pirone. The one that started the police riot at Fruitvale and who perjured himself in his police report and on the stand? He is being reinstated as a BART police officer and due for a promotion. His partner Marisol Domenici, who claimed that her thought on arriving at the platform on New Years day was “I’m going to have to kill someone”, and who repeatedly perjured herself on the stand, she is also on the force. No discipline. No loss of pay.

In fact, no one at BART ever suffered any repercussions at all for their roles in any of the killings at the hands of the BART police, or in any subsequent coverup. If anything, people were rewarded. Not even Mehserle, because BART refused to discipline him for a week, and allowed him to quit on his own on advice from his lawyer so it wouldnt look bad in court.

Who else have the BART police killed and how did BART respond?

BART has never fired a single officer or employee, not even Johannes Mehserle, for ANY of the following incidents or the lies and cover-ups that followed:

  • JERROLD HALL — 1992 — Shot in the back of the head with a shotgun for walking away from a BART cop.
  • ROBERT GREER — 1997 — “Falls” to his death, after being arrested and while completely *in custody* of BART police.
  • BRUCE SEWARD — 2000 — Shot to death while naked, unarmed and having a mental breakdown.
  • OSCAR GRANT — 2009 — Shot in the back by Johannes Mehserle while lying face down.
  • FRED COLLINS — 2010 — Shot while backing AWAY from officers. They claim he was armed with knives, witnesses state that he was agitated, but disagree that he was a threat.
  • CHARLES HILL — 2011 — Wobbly drunk, gunned down at civic center.

Aside from killing innocent people, what else is wrong with the BART police?

Other non-lethal instances of brutality and torture are rampant on the force. After Oscar Grant was murdered, for example, BART director Lynette Sweet recently spoke of an incident in which a handcuffed teenager was tased in the back of a police cruiser. After being handcuffed. This was right about the same time a BART police officer shot his taser out the window of his car at a 13 year old riding a bicycle in Richmond. That officer was actually in CHARGE of taser training for the BART police.

Their cover-ups are shameless and criminal (not that anyone ever gets prosecuted for it). Chief Gary Gee lied about the videos of the Oscar Grant shooting, called the footage “grainy and inconclusive”, and said all the officers on the platform followed protocol and behaved professionally. Chief Rainey says he is comfortable with the shooting of Charles Hill and wants the officers back on the job ASAP. It’s insane, but this kind of response is repeated by BART police management EVERY time they kill someone.

As If you needed a lawsuit to tell you, subpoenaed BART Police records in a civil case in 2001 indicate that BART police have a huge problem with racial profiling. Of course, BART police never did anything to address the problem. It persists today, and even in the wake of the Oscar Grant murder, BART’s general manager prevented the statistics from being released to the public.

There are structural problems that preclude accountability: BART police report to a general manager, who is a civilian appointed by the BART board which we elect. But the BART Board is just a bunch of transit nerds and small time politicians, who are working PART TIME, and are denied the authority to manage with police matters. Since they are so dependent on the general manager, they never challenge her, they just rubber stamp all her decisions. This insulates the police from any political repercussions.

And when we elect the BART board directors we are not voting for the best candidates to oversee their own private police force. We can see from BART police history, and BART’s woefully mismanaged response to Oscar’s shooting, that the BART board doesn’t have the capacity or ability to effectively oversee a police department, and in fact, that their history of mismanagement (or non-management) has proven to be a huge liability.

Why disrupt BART service? Won’t that piss people off?

If we have learned anything in ongoing struggle against police violence (particularly in the case of Oscar Grant), it is that our opinions matter only to the extent that our protests disrupt “business as usual”. If we want anything meaningful to change, we have to physically demonstrate that there is a cost to ignoring our demands, and that chronic police killings of innocent BART passengers will be met with action, not just words. We are expecting to take collective, low-risk action at this demonstration that will impair the ability of BART to function normally, and we expect this will cause the BART Board of Directors to pay attention to our demands.

Some people say, “I am with you, I agree with you, but if you make me late to work, I will be pissed off”. If that person is suggesting that inconveniencing them could make them decide to support the murder of innocent people, then they have serious problems. Anyway, to us it is clear that stopping police murder was never really a question of convincing people that police murder is bad. Everyone already thinks murder is bad. Everyone also thinks police should be held accountable if they murder someone. Police and politicians constantly _claim_ to be in favor of police accountability. The problem is that words and opinions don’t hold people accountable. Sympathy does not hold people accountable. When cops kill innocent people, the status quo is that almost 100% of them get away with it. It doesn’t help to shake your head, to feel bad inside, mutter something like “that’s awful”, or “I totally support your cause”. It doesn’t mean anything until we get out there and raise hell. Action is needed.

What are the next steps?

  1. Let us keep you posted. Go to facebook and “like” We will be planning follow-up actions as this case develops.
  2. You can also consider voicing an opinion at upcoming BART Board Meetings (Second and fourth Thursdays of each month — i.e. July 14th and 28th).
  3. Attend and speak out at BART’s Police Department Review Committee meetings (infrequently scheduled, but the next one is Tuesday, July 12th at 10:00 a.m. in the BART Board Room located in the Kaiser Center 20th Street Mall, Third Floor, 344 – 20th St., Oakland, CA)
  4. Contact BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey to tell him to release the video now (510.464.7022, [email protected]) and fire Pirone, Domenici, and the two officers who killed Charles Hill.
  5. Contact BART Board President Bob Franklin to demand the release of the video and hearings on disbanding the BART Police Department (510.464.6095, [email protected]).