July 15, 1999
life | extra
On the scene as Pacific Bell rewires KPFA’s transmitter.
At the top of a grassy hill off Grizzly Peak, littered with gravel and small rocks, a group of dedicated and weary KPFA supporters gathered in front of KPFA's gated complex July 21. Behind the gate, past the two IPSA security guards, stood KPFA’s transmitter. Supporters of the nation's most progressive radio station had banded together in an attempt to prevent Pacific Bell from installing a line into the transmitter that would allow KPFA to broadcast from a remote site.
Their hopes of stopping the installation quickly faded. Pacific Bell supervisor Bob Torres arrived and said he intended to finish the installation of an outside line. The crowd shouted "Back off Klansman" and "This is illegally done!" as Torres and a group of approximately six East Bay Regional Park District Police officers sidestepped the human blockade at the bottom of the hill leading up the gated complex.
Clutching a white canvas bag, Torres told the protestors that he had to tools necessary to create a line from another station, presumably KPFA's sister station KPFK in LA.
The group of supporters including community listeners and former staff members had gathered in front of the roadside entrance early that morning. They were attempting to physically block Pacific Bell representatives and vehicles from entering the private road, which leads to the transmitter. At around 8:15 a.m., a Pacific Bell vehicle, reportedly equipped with the tools to create an telephone line that would bring KPFK's signal to KPFA's transmitter drove up to the entrance, but was dissuaded by supporters forming a picket line.
According to former KPFA staff member Bob Stern the technicians were unwilling to cross the picket line. Instead, said Stern, the technicians called their managers at Pacific Bell to report that the situation posed a security risk that prevented them from performing the assigned task. They then left. Shortly afterwards, a small white station wagon arrived at the scene with Supervisor Bob Torres and an unidentified manager. The two told the demonstrators that they had arrived to check out the security situation, which had prevented the technician from installing the line.
Although Bob Torres had previously worked at Pacific Bell as a technician, Pacific Bell managers are not allowed by union contract rules to install line or attempt any technological work. Bob Stern told us he had called the union representative and that person had confirmed that CWA workers would file a grievance against management if they attempted to install the line. According to demonstrators at the scene, Torres said that he had the tools for installation but that he was waiting for an installer to arrive.
The police stated that they didn't have enough manpower to arrest all of the supporters. Instead, the police escorted the technician and the two managers up the hill and through the chainlink gates to install the line. According to SFSU student Ben Rogus, "We reacted, but it was too late."
Other demonstrators stood at the bottom of the hill. They managed to avoid physical skirmishes with management and police. But it was not so calm outside of the gated complex. According to eyewitness Greg Getty, protestor Karen Pickett had passed through the open gates leading to the transmitter, when she was approached by two IPSA security guards who refused to identify themselves. As they were engaged in an ongoing dialogue, she reportedly told them, "You won't tell us who you are." At that point, says Stern, she attempted to pass through the gates and past the guards when one of the male guards, estimated at about 200 lbs., reached out and grabbed her by the neck. The security team then placed her under citizens arrest and subsequently handed her over to the EBRPD police who placed her under arrest.
According to Getty, "she did not have any indication that they had the authority to prevent her from passing through the gates. They showed us no ID's or badges. Blocking her path is one thing. Grabbing her by the throat is another." Although Karen Pickett remained in a cop vehicle for more than an hour, she was not permitted to comment on the situation as she was in custody.
Stern approached an officer and inquired into the circumstances of Pickett’s arrest. Stern told the officer that the guard's actions definitely constituted an unreasonable amount of force as he outweighed Karen by at least 70 lbs. and she was peacefully demonstrating. (She yelled from the inside of the police vehicle that she weighed 130 lbs.)
The officer responded by saying, "Overall, we are trying to keep the peace. I wish we could have prevented [Karen] from entering in the first place but we are required by law to honor the citizen's arrest. . . .Officers have given me verbal statements stating that [the guard] was attempting to block her from going further and she was trespassing."
While taking several photographs of the guards' physical confrontation with Pickett, protestor Greg Getty was also physically removed from the scene by the two guards. "They grabbed me by the sleeve and dragged me from where I was sitting approximately two feet behind the open gates, across seven to eight feet of gravel and stones,” he told the Bay Guardian. “Their attack resulted in my torn shirt and gravel in my pants."
Getty later approached an officer and announced his intention to make a citizen's arrest. According to Getty, the response was, "Let's take one thing at a time."
A man who identified himself as a worker for IPSA told us that Getty's account was untrue. He refused to comment directly upon which aspects of the account were untrue. He confirmed that he was hired by Pacifica to "provide security," “We are just trying to prevent property damage, violence and additional problems," he told us.
He refused to comment upon what violence was expected from the demonstrators but he said KPFA supporters "have certain rights and we don't want to interfere with their rights but we expect them to demonstrate within the confines of the law. We don't want to have any problems." Though he acknowledged being present during the physical confrontation between Pickett and his fellow security guard, he declined to comment on the violent reaction of the guard. He also declined to give his name, saying, "My name is not important. I work for the company and I have no personal contact with the radio station."