Abolish the BART Police?

The demand to ABOLISH the BART Police Department! may seem extreme at first. Society conditions us to believe that the ways in which we are policed are inevitable, if not necessary. But when we reflect on the demand to get rid of the BART police, we see that (1) there is plenty of precedent, (2) that it is actually a very reasonable demand, (3) that it is achievable for a number of reasons, (4) that it would set an important symbolic example to police everywhere, and represent a huge victory for our movement, and (5) that it is a necessary demand if we want Justice for Oscar Grant III.

1. It is important to note that police departments like BART's can be, and are often eliminated, so it's not like the idea of eliminating a police force is unheard of. In particular, like the BART police, many of the nation's Housing Authority police departments are small, unaccountable, notoriously brutal organizations. Many of these police departments (at least 6) have been eliminated in cities such as Los Angeles and Baltimore. Usually, they have been eliminated because of budgetary concerns, but eliminating the BART police department is a very reasonable decision that can be made by the BART board just as it has been made by Public Housing Authorities in other cities.

2. Why does BART have its own police department? Maybe you believe that someone needs to police public transit, but this is a different issue than who should be in charge of that police force. When we elect the BART board directors we are not voting for the best candidates to oversee their own private police force. We can see from BART police history, and BART's woefully mismanaged response to Oscar's shooting, that the BART board doesn't have the capacity or ability to effectively oversee a police department, and in fact, that their history of mismanagement (or non-management) has proven to be a huge liability. The BART board can, and will soon realize that the BART police department is actually a problem that they have inherited and can't fix, and that they should very simply divest themselves of this liability.

3. We can win on this demand! The BART police are a drain on an increasingly strained BART budget. They are not tied to any community that supports or needs them, and they provide redundant police “services”. They have a history of brutality and their “charter” is basically something that was created with little consideration from the state legislature. The BART board is beginning to crack here, and members are trying to fire the Police Chief and the General Manager. Rather than try to micromanage and figure out how to root out the corruption that runs so deeply in this police force, or craft the major policy changes that will stop a pattern of BART police murder and abuse, the win-win solution for everyone is to get rid of the department. The Board doesn't really have the capacity to truly fix the situation any other way.

4. We need to be making systemic or structural demands, not just calling for charges and measures to be taken against specific officers. Oscar Grant's murder is not an isolated incident, and our job is to make sure that we stop the next police murder from happening. This means that we need to effect change over the entire police culture (whether it is BART or any other police department) that leads to such abuses. When we win on a demand like this, it will be historic, we will be holding a police department accountable for its culture and behavior, rather holding a single officer accountable and perpetuating the myth and all-purpose excuse of "a few bad apples". The repercussions of such a success will reverberate in police departments all over the US and set a clear precedent that would discourage police violence all over the country.

5) At this point, having seen what we've seen in the videos of this incident, with the clarity and new energy in our movement, it would be defeatist and depressing for our movement, and an insult to justice itself, for us to settle for token reform measures like having a civilian or other review board at BART. We know from experience, for example, that civilian review boards are powerless, and accomplish nothing in the way of accountability or oversight. The Oakland police are an obvious example. Its time for us to up the ante and make real demands that fit the reality of police violence.