Fourteen protesters were in court this week facing a misdemeanor charge and $70,000 in restitution for shutting down BART service on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, as part of the national movement opposing police killings of unarmed African Americans.
As Black Friday 14 activists sat in the courtroom Wednesday morning, several hundred supporters rallied outside the courthouse demanding that District Attorney Nancy O’Malley drop the call for restitution and the trespassing charge.
The activists are challenging the constitutionality of California Penal Code 369i, which prohibits conduct that interferes with transit operations. They and their attorneys are arguing that the law “criminalizes the most innocent behavior” within a BART station and gives police “unfettered discretion to impose charges on disfavored transit users.”
Oakland Civil rights lawyer Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, presented this argument to the judge. If the judge agrees with the motion, the case would be dismissed.
The motion calls for the court “to dismiss this case because the statute itself is being challenged for being unconstitutional,” said Riley outside the Alameda County courthouse on Washington Street in Oakland.
The motion cites the case of Morse v. BART (Feb. 11, 2014) in which a court found: “The lack of a specific intent requirement coupled with [BART] defendants’ interpretation of Section 369i would appear to make much of the innocent conduct one witnesses at a public transit station a crime under the Penal Code.”
Judge Yolanda Northridge is expected to make a written ruling soon. She did not refer to the $70,000 restitution fee.
However, Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Mike Nieto read a statement on Wednesday representing the District Attorney’s position on restitution:
“Any time a crime victim suffers a loss, the offender must be ordered to pay restitution for that loss. A victim’s right to a criminal restitution order stems from Article I, Section 28 B of the California Constitution.
“Restitution orders are to be imposed for the full amount of the victims economic loss. These economic losses must be actual losses and not based upon speculation. We have not received any evidence or other supporting documentation for actual economic losses in these cases.”
If the judge denies their motion, the protesters are scheduled to go back to court on March 18. They are asking for community members to support the demand for the charge and restitution to be dropped.