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Supporters of Anonymous took to the streets and subways Monday to rally against BART's suspension of cell phone service during a previous protest, forcing police to shut down several BART and Muni underground stations in San Francisco.
"I'm here to fight censorship and shutting down people's right to protest with cellphone usage," said one Anonymous supporter wearing the global activist and hacking collective's trademark Guy Fawkes mask to protect his identity.
Last week, Bay Area transit authorities shut down underground cell phone service on BART trains and platforms during a protest over the shootings of two men by BART police. BART authorities said they shut down cell service last Thursday from 4-7pm in an attempt to prevent protest organizers from communicating and organizing via mobile devices.
While dozens of protestors at the San Francisco event wore masks of some sort, many more of the people on hand wore no masks. And while the event was ostensibly organized by Anonymous to protest the cell phone shutdown, chants yelled by the crowd as it marched down Market Street were clearly aimed at BART police for a series of incidents in recent years that have left suspects injured and dead.
Gathering at about 5pm PT at the UN Plaza near the Civic Center BART and Muni station, the protestors began marching northeast on Market Street towards Powell station at about 5:25pm, right around the time that SFPD and BART police officers emerged from Civic Center station to inform that public that the station was being shut down for safety reasons.
Later, as the protestors descended upon Powell station about three blocks away, that station was also shut down. Several more stations on Market street were reportedly shut down temporarily, but all had been reopened as of Monday evening.
Justin Minnich, an Anonymous supporter at the San Francisco protest, defended Anonymous' tactics.
"There always is [collateral damage] but that's like any battle you take, if you stand up against anything, if you believe in something, if you fight a fight, there's going to be collateral damage," Minnich said.
"There's collateral damage on their side," he added, pointing to several BART police and SFPD officers at Civic Center station about 15 minutes before they shut it down, along with Powell station on Market Street.
"They consider what they're doing is right, protecting people, serving the community. Well obviously there's collateral damage on their side, there's people getting shot."
The decision to interrupt wireless service has been widely criticized and reported worldwide, and already spurred a data breach by hacker protest group "Anonymous" on the agency's myBART.org website, which is used for marketing and to announce deals near BART stations.
Turner said she did not participate in other protests, but decided to participate Monday because Anonymous organizers said it was going to be peaceful.
Turner said she was there because of the July 3 shooting as well as Thursday's wireless disruption.
"It's everything combined," she said. "You can't separate these things."
While the protest was peaceful, it led to the temporary closures of four downtown BART stations during rush hour, which left some commuters frustrated with the demonstrators.
BART officials closed the Civic Center station at around 5:30 p.m. and the crowd walked down Market Street to the Embarcadero. BART police shut down the Powell Street, Montgomery Street, and Embarcadero stations as the crowd made their way along the train route.
Along the way, demonstrators met with some angry reactions from thwarted commuters who shouted out insults.
One of the protesters clad in a Guy Fawkes mask like the ones featured in the movie "V for Vendetta" said he welcomed their angry responses and that he appreciated that freedom of speech was their constitutional right.
"Good for them," he said when a man called him a nihilist and another made an obscene gesture.
The demonstrators ended their walk at Embarcadero Station, where officers in riot gear lined the street and blocked the station entrance.
The decision by BART to briefly cut cellphone service at four stations last Thursday drew widespread criticism by free speech advocates, a promised lawsuit by the ACLU, and a hack of a BART website by the online activist collective Anonymous, which posted personal information of thousands of BART website users on a separate website this weekend in retaliation.
After meeting with BART officials Monday, the ACLU said it won't file a lawsuit over last week's service disruption. The transit agency took that step out of concern that the planned protest would become violent, as did an earlier protest, on July 11, held to condemn the shooting of a homeless man by BART police. The civil liberties group said, however, it is disappointed that BART left the door open to future cell service disruptions. The Federal Communications Commission has opened an investigation into whether BART broke federal law by turning off four agency-owned cellphone transponders last Thursday.