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Commentary: BART Police Need to Figure out Where They Stand on Rules

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Unless you've been vacationing on another planet, you're probably aware of the BART sandwich incident from last Monday, November 4 at the Pleasant Hill BART station. Put simply, a BART police officer ended up handcuffing an African-American patron who was eating a breakfast sandwich while waiting for a train.

What's that have to do with the lead photo of a BART police cruiser parked in the middle of a protected bike lane intersection treatment at Lake Merritt station? More on that at the end.

BART's general manager Bob Powers issued the following statement yesterday:

The officer asked the rider not to eat while passing by on another call. It should have ended there, but it didn’t. When the officer walked by again and still saw him eating, he moved forward with the process of issuing him a citation. The individual refused to provide identification, cursed at and made homophobic slurs at the officer who remained calm through out the entire engagement.

This video of the incident was shot by another BART patron:

Despite his defense of the police, Powers also apologized to Steve Foster, the sandwich eater, in his statement.

BART Director Janice Li meanwhile angered the BART police by mocking their actions and participating in an "eat in" demonstration on the Embarcadero platform.

“Li is undermining the authority of BART police by advocating lawlessness and making our job as law enforcement officers that much harder,” said Keith Garcia, president of the BART Police Officers Association, in a prepared statement (PDF).

In the statement, the police also gave their version of the sandwich incident. They said they warn people a hundred times a day about not eating in the system, adding:

“Our officer was at the station on a separate call when he ran into the suspect in this case, who was on the platform eating a sandwich,” Garcia said. “Our officer said to him, ‘Just a reminder there is no eating on BART,’ and the subject responded, ‘I’m not on BART, I can eat wherever the f--- I want.’

“Our officer then tells him that eating is not allowed anywhere in the paid areas, including the platform. And the subject responds, ’F--- you, I ain’t doing nothing wrong,’ and continues to eat the sandwich directly in the officer’s face.”

When the officer asked the suspect for identification in order to write a citation for violating state law, the man refused to comply and continued to curse at the officer. The officer then requested back up.

Refusing to provide ID and being uncooperative with law enforcement is a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, the man was released after a brief detention and given only a citation.

Also from the statement:

The head of the BART police officers association and leaders of the BART police management team are demanding an apology from BART director Janice Li for participating in an anti-police protest on a train platform and encouraging the public to violate the law.

There is, of course, too much to unpack here in terms of selective enforcement and racial profiling, than can be accomplished in a single post. There are larger issues about police enforcement and profiling that aren't unique to the Bay Area. That said, if the BART police have video of the officer that morning telling others not to eat, we hope they'll provide it. Given the agency's history of selective use of video, going back to the shooting of Oscar Grant, we'd think they'd be clamoring to get that record straight.

But here's a bit of irony, exemplified in the photos. Li's day job is advocating for safer streets at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. So if the police are going to demand apologies, how about they first apologize to Li and everybody else who works tirelessly for equity, evenly-applied law enforcement, and safer streets, for sh*ting on bike safety by parking on Oakland's protected bike infrastructure?

“BART directors approved a list of infractions and misdemeanors, now Li is ridiculing police for enforcing those very rules. Our officers deserve greater respect," wrote BART Police Managers Association President Jason Ledford, who also asked Li to apologize.

Sorry President Ledford, but here's the thing about respect: your job isn't just to enforce the rules, it's also to follow them. Not parking in bike lanes wouldn't make breaking other rules--such as not racially profiling--okay. But when one looks at the photos above and below, it's just a little more evidence that when it comes to following the rules, at least some BART police officers don't even feel an obligation to try.


For those not familiar with the area, the BART police station is right across from Lake Merritt station, with ample parking, with direct, underground access to the BART station from the parking lot and building. There's also a parking lot above the station and plenty of loading zones. Even in a dire emergency, there's room to park a cruiser on the street without placing it right in the center of the bike lane. We have a request in to BART for an explanation for why BART officers park in bike lanes around the station.

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