A California transportation company hampers clarification of fatalities. Protest forms on the Internet and moves to the street.

On July 3, 2011, Charles Blair Hill was shot by two members of the transit police in San Francisco’s Civic Center regional station. The evidently strongly intoxicated man allegedly attacked them with two knives and a broken bottle neck.

Charles Blair Hill is not the first victim of the security service of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), a regionally operating transportation company: Last year Fred Collins perished from a shot, and two and a half years ago Oscar Grant was killed by a BART officer.

At that time, a “No Justice, No BART” initiative was founded on the Internet, to demonstrate for transparency in investigations as well as the elimination of BART police. In light of the incident in July of this year, the network organized renewed protests, with which it affected the temporary shutdown of a station.

BART feared a further protest on August 11. And because the activists had previously coordinated via smartphones, company leadership abruptly decided to disable the in-house cellular network.

Anonymous Intervenes

This cutoff in communication in turn summoned to the plan hacktivists from Anonymous, who hacked the BART server. In addition, they published a manifesto in which they condemned the censorship and called for a demonstration in the same station where Charles Hill died. “We are Legion,” threatened the authors.

There can be no talk of that: Only a few dozen protesters with the Guy Fawkes masks characteristic of Anonymous activists took part in the action. Nonetheless, the crush of press representatives was enormous and BART was forced to close four stations in San Francisco temporarily. This time, however, the cellular network was not affected.

Until now, hacktivists under the Anonymous label had seldom come to protest on the street — the exception being the Chanology project directed against Scientology. What is more, the combination of hack attacks and traditional demonstrations could be a future form of protest, because a great deal of publicity can be established with relatively few involved parties.

Via the Internet, anyone can declare their solidarity and contribute without a lot of effort, and forms of protest that are neither clearly legal nor illegal are possible — the best of them violating the norm (and thereby catching the media’s attention). And with the march on the street one delivers opportune pictures.

And so it happens that the death of Charles Blair, BART and a cellular network shutdown in the regional transit system of the San Francisco Bay Area are being written about worldwide. It could be a prime example.