"That's a good question. I wish I had an answer."
The Bell Riots were a pivotal series of events on Earth that took place in September of 2024. Started in San Francisco's Sanctuary District A, they were named after protest leader Gabriel Bell. One of the most violent civil disturbances in all of American history, the riots and subsequent crackdown resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Sanctuary District residents. (DS9: "Past Tense, Part I", "Past Tense, Part II")
By the 2020s, the American government – reacting to serious problems of homelessness and unemployment – created special Sanctuary Districts (essentially walled-off sections of the city grid) in most major cities. Unfortunately – while established with the benevolent intent of providing free housing and food, as well as prospects for future employment – the Sanctuaries quickly degenerated into inhumane internment camps for the poor. Even though people with criminal records were not allowed inside Sanctuaries, it didn't take long for the homeless and unemployed to be joined by the mentally ill and other, more violent, social outcasts. These groups were referred to by their slang terms – Gimmies, Dims, and Ghosts.
By late 2024, the twenty square blocks that made up Sanctuary District A had become overcrowded slums. With the records of people inside the Sanctuaries not uploaded to the planetary computer network (and therefore not accessible using an Interface), the true conditions inside were unknown to the general public. American society believed that, despite the political upheaval affecting Europe at the time, the United States was stable and had found a way to successfully deal with the social problems that had been the genesis of the Sanctuaries. An "out of sight, out of mind" mentality had set in. People in the district started to believe that their needs were forgotten.
On August 30th, three Starfleet officers, Benjamin Sisko, Julian Bashir, and Jadzia Dax, arrived in San Francisco from 2371, due to a transporter accident. Knocked unconscious during the transport, Sisko and Bashir were awoken by security guards Vin and Bernardo Calvera, who mistakenly believed that the pair of newcomers were homeless. Sisko and Bashir lacked any form of identification and their combadges had been stolen so they were brought to Sanctuary District A, where they were processed by health official Lee. Inside, Sisko and Bashir, in accordance with Starfleet's temporal displacement policy, tried not to affect history while looking for a way out to find Dax.
Dax had meanwhile been awoken and befriended by Chris Brynner, who thought she had been mugged and who found her a place to stay.
On the night of the 31st, Bashir was assaulted by a gang of Ghosts trying to take his ration card. In the ensuing scuffle, a man stepped in to help him but was stabbed to death by Biddle Coleridge (B.C.), who hurriedly vacated the scene. Sisko checked the victim's ration card and thereby discovered that the man who had died helping them was Gabriel Bell. Realizing they had changed the past, Sisko (assuming Bell's identity) and Bashir joined gimmie Michael Webb – whom they had met earlier – in gathering support for a rally outside the Sanctuary Processing Center, the next day.
Early in the morning of September 1st, the conditions surrounding the distribution of food rations sparked a riot, wherein the Ghosts led by B.C. attacked the Sanctuary guards and quickly captured the Sanctuary Processing Center as well as the rest of the district. Armed with the weapons of the overpowered guards, the Ghosts took six center employees hostage, including Vin, Calvera, and Lee. They were joined by "Gabriel Bell" and Michael Webb, who acted as the voice and face of the riot while dealing with police negotiator Detective Preston.
Chris Brynner, who owned Brynner Information Systems (which operated Channel 90 on the net), was convinced by Dax to break the law and to reconnect the Processing Center after the police cut it off. Reconnected on September 2nd, many Sanctuary residents (such as Henry Garcia) were able to tell their stories of imprisonment to the outside world. As a result, the American public became aware of the great injustice that had been hidden from them and further riots broke out in Sanctuaries across the US.
Despite protests from Detective Preston, the governor of California ordered National Guardsmen to retake the Sanctuary by force on September 3rd at 0500 hours. In the melee, hundreds of Sanctuary residents were killed, including B.C. and Michael Webb. "Gabriel Bell" was shot, protecting Vin and the other hostages (all of whom remained unharmed).
Vin and Bernardo took Bell's and Bashir's ration cards after the riot, saying they would list them as casualties, and helped them return to their beam-in site, where Dax was waiting for them. Both Vin and Bernardo went on to tell other people what had happened in the Sanctuary, never knowing that Sisko had been Bell. The away team was rescued by Major Kira Nerys and Chief Miles O'Brien shortly thereafter.
In the wake of the riots, and the senseless death of so many people, public opinion turned against the concept of the Sanctuary Districts. The Districts were abolished as the United States finally began to face the serious social problems it had struggled with for over a century. Because Bell had played a crucial role in protecting the hostages, and in the negotiations prior to the government assault, he was remembered as one of the central figures in the events and his name became forever associated with them.
The conceptualization of the Bell Riots began after Robert Hewitt Wolfe suggested doing a DS9 episode about homelessness. Even though he and Ira Steven Behr tried several ways of doing the story, they were particular about what form the protest against homelessness would take. Behr recalled, "We certainly didn't want to do a Martin Luther King, which would have been an obvious way to go. We didn't want to have Sisko leading a march or a protest." (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
Ultimately, the writers based the Bell Riots on two historical incidents, both of which took place in the early 1970s: the Kent State shootings of anti-war protesters in 1970 and the Attica Prison riot in 1971. Whereas the reactions to the former event had had a major impact on Ira Steven Behr, his idea of basing the protest on the Attica Prison riot was also a major influence on the DS9 story itself. Behr stated, "I was driving home one evening, and I suddenly thought, 'Attica.' I came in the next day and told Robert, 'I hope you like it, because I think this is the way we have to do it – we're gonna do concentration camps." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion) Of the Kent State shootings, Behr remembered, "Once they started shooting down American college students, everyone I knew who was still pro-war said, 'Maybe we should just end this damn thing.' And many of the counterculture kids, ironically, said, 'If they're gonna shoot us, screw the revolution. Let's become accountants.' It had a big impact on me, and I got the idea of doing a combination of Kent State and an Attica [prison]-type siege, starting with the question: What would happen if the government started putting these people in camps? How would society deal with that or rationalize it? How would the homeless people deal with it?" (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
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