Transit Agency Criticized for Cutting Cell Phone Service

August 22, 2011

Officials at the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART), a San Francisco Bay Area train system, drew fire for shutting down cell phone service on all trains and stations in San Francisco for several hours on August 11 to prevent protestors from staging a demonstration.

Critics lambasted BART for violating protestors' First Amendment right to free expression and compared BART to the repressive regime of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who tried to turn off communicaiton channels to end political protests that eventually resulted in his ouster.

BART countered that its actions were necessary to protect passengers' safety.

By shutting down cell phone service, BART officials hoped to avert a demonstration like one that took place on July 11 to protest the shooting by a BART police officer of a Charles Hill, a homeless man.

Demonstrators snarled the evening commute July 11, evading police for hours and shutting down several BART stations, as they protested the shooting death of Charles Hill by a BART police officer last month. 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/131rw)

Demonstrators snarled the evening commute July 11, evading police for hours and shutting down several BART stations, as they protested the shooting death of Charles Hill by a BART police officer last month. 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/131rw)

Demonstrators snarled the evening commute July 11, evading police for hours and shutting down several BART stations, as they protested the shooting death of Charles Hill by a BART police officer last month. 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/131rw)

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Bay Area Rapid Transit officials shut off cell phone service to thwart protestors

[Chapter 07] Mightier Than the Sword: The Right to Free Expression

Soon after John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939, farmers and politicians in Kern County, the region depicted in the classic novel, tried to ban the book from local libraries.


Fighting Censorship: From School Libraries to Symphony Halls

Attempts to censor books, films, and live performances are perennial. In the latter part of the 20th century, prize-winning books, ethnic dance performers, and a gay men's chorus were just some of the targets of censorship in California.


Appeals Court Strikes Picketing Law

July 20, 2010

In a dispute between a Sacramento grocery store and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, California's Third District Court of Appeal invalidated a 1975 law which protects the rights of unions to picket on property owned by the business that is the target of the protest. The law allows a judge to bar labor picketing on private and public property only to prevent illegal action that would cause significant property damage that law enforcement officers could not avert.  

The owners of a Foods Co. store in Sacramento had asked the court to strike down the law because union protestors were distributing leaflets five feet from the entrance to the store. Labor organizers began picketing the store when it opened in July 2007.

A  three-judge panel of the appellate court unanimously agreed that the law is unconstitutional because it singles out speech by labor unions for protection.

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In a related case, the United States Supreme Court in 1980 upheld an earlier California Supreme Court ruling in Pruneyard v. Robins that owners of shopping malls cannot prohibit political activists from passing out literature and otherwise exercising their free speech rights within the shopping center.

In the early 20th century, cities throughout California passed laws restricting speech on public streets and in public parks as a means of preventing labor union leaders from organizing workers.



Justices rule unconstitutional a 1975 law that allows labor picketers to demonstrate on a store's privately-owned parking lot or walkway.

Bay Area Rapid Transit Issues Policies on Cutting Cell Phone Service

October 19, 2011

After being widely criticized for cutting off cell phone service in San Francisco train stations to thrwart a legal protest, officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) issued draft policies outlining when BART's General Manager could order cell phone service to be curtailed.

Those circumstances include the possibility of cell phones being used to detonate a bomb, to threaten lives through criminal activity like hostage-taking, or to disrupt substantially BART service or property.

BART's board of directors will discuss the proposed policies on October 27.

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In response to widespread criticism for cutting cell phone service to prevent a demonstration, BART officials clarify instances when cell phone service would be shut down

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Southern California Professor's Challenge of Broad Anti-Terror Law

February 26, 2010

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on February 23 in the case of USC professor of social work Ralph Fertig, who is President of the Humanitarian Law Project, a Los Angeles-based human rights organization that promotes peaceful conflict resolution through the use of international human rights laws. At issue is a provision of the Patriot Act which criminalizes providing expert advice, even advice on nonviolent conflict resolution, to an organization that the State Department has designated a terrorist organization. Fertig and the Humanitarian Law Project feared that their advocacy on behalf of the Kurdsish minority in Turkey could be interpreted as a violation of the law because some of the individuals with whom the group might be members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization. 

The clash in this case between the anti-terrorism law and free speech rights echoes prior conflicts. In 1919, California and other states passed "criminal syndicalism" laws which created the felony of promoting "any doctine or precept advocating. . .unlawful acts or force and violence. . .as a means of accomplishing a change in industrial ownership or control, or effecting any political change." The law became a tool to squelch the free speech rights of union organizers, strikers, and political dissidents. In 1923, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair was arrested in San Pedro for reading the U.S. Constitution at a rally in support of striking dockworkers.

During the Cold War, President Harry Truman authorized the Attorney General to create a list of "totalitarian, fascist, communist, or subversive groups." The government considered membership or "sypmathetic association" in any of the 123 organizations on the list to be evidence of disloyalty.

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High court asked to decide whether an anti-terrorism law violates the free speech rights of a Los Angeles-based group advocating peaceful conflict resolution.

Free Speech in Shopping Malls: Pruneyard v. Robins

High school students who were barred in 1975 from distributing a political petition at a Silicon Valley shopping mall fought for their free speech rights. Their case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.


Political Cartoonist Paul Conrad Dies

September 8, 2010

Legendary political cartoonist Paul Conrad, who skewered the powerful and fought against censorship, died on September 4 in Los Angeles at the age of 86.

Conrad, who said he was “most proud of being on Nixon’s enemies list,” won three Pulitzer Prizes during the course of his half-century career, including 30 years at the Los Angeles Times. He used his agile pen and his deft sense of humor to denounce presidents, governors and others he saw abusing power.

Conrad is featured in Wherever There’s a Fight because of his advocacy of freedom of the press.  In 1968, one of his cartoons (above) angered then-Mayor of Los Angeles Sam Yorty, who filed a $2 million libel suit against the paper.

In an amicus brief on behalf of Conrad, ACLU of Southern California attorneys Al Wirin and Fred Okrand stated, “if Mayor Yorty is permitted to prosecute …or recovers damages, it will have a considerable inhibiting effect on what to many is the main purpose of the First Amendment: the right of, and the need for, the public to know and be informed in order that there may be true democratic government.”

In 1970, Conrad was vindicated when a judge ruled that penalizing the defendants would “subvert the most fundamental meaning of a free press.”

In a PBS documentary on Conrad, Tom Brokaw said, “Every line he draws cries out to the powers that be, ‘We’re watching you!’”

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Conrad was the target of a 1968 libel suit filed by Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, who tried to censor one of the artist's cartoons.

City Lights Reading

You may need: Adobe Flash Player.

November 11, 2009

Listen to a podcast from historic City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where Elaine Elinson and Stan Yogi read from Wherever There's a Fight.


LA Board of Supervisors Approves Settlement for Photographers Detained by Sheriff's Deputies

March 5, 2015

On March 3, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement with three photographers who were detained by L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies while shooting photos in public places.

The photographers, Shawn Nee, Greggory Moore and Shane Quentin, filed a lawsuit in 2011 against the county and individual deputies charging that the deputies violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights by detaining, searching and questioning them for taking photographs of Metro Rail turnstiles, oil refineries and traffic in front of a court house.

The settlement includes $50,000 in damages for the photographers and implements training for deputies interacting with photographers or members of the public who are taking photos in public places.

The training details LASD policy that members of the public “have a First Amendment right to observe, take photographs, and record video in any public place where they are lawfully present” and prohibits deputies from “interfering, threatening, intimidating, blocking or otherwise discouraging” photographers from taking photos or video unless they are violating a law.

The training also makes clear that members of the public “have the right to photograph and record video of peace officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties” so long as they “are in a place they have a legal right to be present,” and forbids LASD deputies from requiring any person to show pictures or video without a warrant, or from deleting or destroying any photographic, audio or video recording under any circumstances.

In recent years many law enforcement agencies, including LASD, have instituted “suspicious activity reporting” programs designed to train officers to report certain activities believed to have a potential link to terrorism. Many departments include photography among the activities that should be reported.

Deputies had stopped, detained and searched the photographers for taking photos in public places.
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