BART protests: What's the difference between Bay Area Rapid Transit and the Chinese government?

Obsessions, Manias, Complaints
Aug. 19 2011 1:58 PM

Cell Block

What's the difference between BART and the Chinese government?

(Continued from Page 1)

This is, in every syllable, the voice of a Chinese Communist public-security official. Concerns about rights are a pretext, put forward by enemies of the state to undermine those protecting the public.

If the tactics are the same, and the rhetoric behind the tactics is the same, what's left? Intentions. The Conservative Party, we must understand, has its citizens' best interests at heart when it talks about jamming Twitter and Facebook. The Chinese Communist Party—let alone Egypt's National Democratic Party—does not. Conversely, rioters in London are antisocial hooligans, while rioters in Lhasa are provoked by injustice.

But intentions are hard to see across borders. The security of the state is the security of the state. Is there any government so insane and despotic that it doesn't believe its purpose is to make the nation safe and strong? Even if it seems to be doing the opposite? Putting down unrest has always been part of the mission of the people who rule China. There are stone monuments in Beijing's Confucius Temple commemorating the crushing of this or that insurrection in the empire's provinces centuries before anyone conceived of Twitter or of communism.

Chinese citizens riot and torch cars all the time. It's a big country, and people get angry about things. Last week, thousands of demonstrators in Guizhou burned vehicles in a protest against the abuses of the chengguan, the municipal regulatory police. The chengguan are supposed to enforce the rules against unlicensed vending and other forms of low-level disorderliness. The result is generally low-level tyranny.

The mission of BART, according to BART's statement, "is to provide, safe, secure, efficient, reliable, and clean transportation services." So there was the municipal transit agency, exercising its powers to shut down a protest. It's possible that BART had the legal right to cut off communications inside its stations. It can be argued that the inside of a transit station is an unsuitable place for a mass demonstration.

But the point of the would-be demonstrations was to challenge BART's judgment in how it used its powers. The protesters were protesting a shooting by transit police. BART's response showed that it couldn't even grasp that premise.

What about ordinary commuters, entering the zone of conflict with no access to their own mobile communications? "BART Police officers and other BART personnel with radios were present during the planned protest, and train intercoms and white courtesy telephones remained available for customers seeking assistance or reporting suspicious activity." The authorities were in charge. The authorities and no one else.

For a day, the measures worked—or in the unknowable world of security counterfactuals, they didn't not work. There were no disruptive protests during that commute. But BART's vision of tech dystopia was self-fulfilling. In response to the news of the phone shutdown, the vigilante hackers of Anonymous retaliated by breaking into its database of commuters' private information and launching a new round of demonstrations, teaming up with the original aggrieved parties. Technology was a dangerous thing after all.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.