San Francisco subway stations closed amid protests

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Rush-hour protests prompted the closure of four San Francisco subway stations and sent hundreds of commuters into the sidewalks and streets Monday, but there was no repeat of the wireless service shutdowns that angered protesters last week.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit agency has found itself in the middle of a raging debate over how far authorities should go to disrupt protests organized on social networks. The agency shut cellphone service last Thursday to quell a brewing protest on one of its platforms over a police shooting.

Cellphone service was operating Monday night as an estimated 50 protesters gathered on the Civic Center Station platform chanting “no justice, no peace” shortly after 5 p.m. Thirty minutes later, police in riot gear and wielding batons closed the station and cleared the platform after protesters briefly delayed an east-bound train from departing.

From Civic Center, the protesters were joined by more demonstrators and marched down San Francisco’s Market Street and attempted to enter to more stations. Officials closed those stations as well.

“Once the platform becomes unsafe, we can’t jeopardize the safety of patrons and employees,” BART Deputy Police Chief Dan Hartwig said.

Hundreds of people stood on the sidewalks and streets outside stations in the city’s Financial District on Monday evening. Many of the people appeared to be commuters.

“It a big disruption,” said Nancy Armstrong, competing with others to flag a cab above the Civic Center station.

Ayanna Tate, of Oakland, was frustrated at not being able to take a BART train across the bay.

“I’m trying to get home! Take this someplace else,” she said, referring to the protesters. “You’ve made your point! To everybody!”

Shortly after 7:30 p.m., three of the four downtown BART stations had re-opened.

Elijah Sparrow, a protester, called the demonstration “one of the defining battles of the 21st century over who is going to control communication.”

The shutdown of wireless towers in stations near the protest last Thursday night helped raise questions about the role that social networks are playing in helping people, from Egypt to London, organize online. In the U.S., with its history of free speech, critics are saying BART’s move was unconstitutional.

BART officials have said their primary concern was to ensure that passengers are safe. BART spokesman Linton Johnson declined to answer questions about why the agency decided to keep the wireless system operable Monday.

“It’s wrong,” American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Risher said. “There were better alternatives to ensure the public’s safety.”

Former BART director Michael Bernick applauded the move, saying it ensured a safe and uninterrupted commute Thursday night.

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