Monday, August 15, 2011

A brief interview with the Chief Communications Officer for BART, Linton Johnson

After an interview with a DJ equipment retailer on Market, I decided to walk down to the Civic Center and scope out the Pre-Protest activity.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only were the local news affiliates present, but also CNN. CNN doesn't actually have a San Francisco presence, so they had to bring that huge truck (which made me envious) down from Sonoma.  The police have already blocked off a lane on market and there were officers (both uniformed and undercover) walking around.  I talked with one of the techs before he turned me over to Linton Johnson. The interview was very much ad hoc, so I'll go over the finer points.

How do you plan on avoiding a similar situation from that of last week?
As long as people don't become unruly, there won't be any problems.
I'm talking specifically about turning off cell service.
Right, as long as the protest doesn't get out of hand, we won't have to do that again.
I want to let you know that the intention to have a peaceful demonstration.
My question is, what needs to occur before you shut off service?
I can't tell you that.
My question is, what it the threshold?
I can't tell you that.
You don't know or you can't?
I won't.
Can the police tell me?
You can ask, but I don't think there are any guidelines set in place.
What is the probability?
I can't tell you that.
OK. The number 9,000 has been thrown around and I think we both know that this won't happen. Even so, what if 2,000 people show up?  If the protest does get out of hand, let's hope it doesn't, and people get hurt, how will they be able to call 911?
We have a strong police presence. You can see them. We all have radios and there are phones down on the platforms where they can call up. These things are far more reliable than any cell phone and we can react faster than a call to 911.
Well, that's convenient for you, but what is your contigency plan if people do get hurt?
We have one ambulance stationed here and another one in Oakland.
2 ambulances for an estimated 2000 people. Do you think that will be enough?
I hope so.
What about the people who aren't even involved with the protest? How are they supposed to call home to say that they will be late?
We've operated BART safely for 34 years without cell service. One day won't make much of a difference.
You probably said that last week and now look where we are. What will be the response for protesters on the street level?
That is totally within their right to do so.
At what point do they not have a right to protest?
Once they step inside the Fare Gates.
And then?
I have another interview to do.
Thank you Mr. Johnson

My overall feeling is that he was having more fun talking with CNN than some anonymous blogger. Fair enough, but I also got the impression that he was a little drunk with power. Maybe I came off a little adversarial, but I was looking for a mild acceptance that BART has mishandled the entire situation. He was not about to give any ground to anyone because he had the government behind him. He came off as condescending.  I would estimate that he thinks we are a joke.

I need to let everyone know that the government presence is sizable and they are very serious. They will arrest people. If anyone sets foot inside the Fare Gates, they will arrest you. I have a feeling that they have already shut down cell service.

Good luck people. Let's keep this safe.  Please.

Linton Johnson
Chief Communications Officer
Department Manager, Communications
510-464-7139 (office)
510-473-6479 (mobile)
510-899-2285 (pager)

yes, the dude has a pager!

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