In what's likely to be an unpopular move — though maybe not with the drivers who were stuck in traffic for hours — SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins announced that a slew of charges are going to be filed against 80 people who were arrested while participating in a protest last month that blocked the westbound Bay Bridge.
A peaceful but highly disruptive protest on November 16, in which dozens of protesters used their vehicles to block the westbound Bay Bridge during the morning rush hour and unfurled banners that said "Stop the Genocide" and "Biden Harris: Ceasefire Now" is now going to come with criminal charges against the participants.
DA Jenkins announced late Friday that 80 individuals are going to be charged and arraigned in batches this week, with each facing misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment, refusing to comply with a peace officer, unlawful public assembly, refusing to disperse, and obstruction of a street, sidewalk or other place open to public.
ABC 7's Dan Noyes reported on the charges, which have not yet appeared on the DA's office website.
"While we must protect avenues for free speech, the exercise of free speech can not compromise public safety," Jenkins said in a statement. "The demonstration on the Bay Bridge that snarled traffic for hours had a tremendous impact on those who were stuck on the bridge and required tremendous public resources to resolve."
Jenkins added, "I would like to commend the California Highway Patrol and San Francisco Sheriff’s Department for their work to peacefully resolve this incident."
The protest unfolded around 8 a.m. on November 16, beginning with a dozen vehicles that coordinated themselves into two rows and came to a stop on the eastern span of the bridge just before Treasure Island. Around 80 protesters then unfurled banners calling for an end to U.S. aid to Israel and an end to the war in Gaza. The organizers of the demonstration appeared to be the activist group Arab Resource and Organizing Center.
With the subsequent process of towing cars and arresting people, the entire event caused a traffic standstill that lasted four hours, and an extended backup into the East Bay that lasted even longer as lanes began to be reopened. Among other impacts, the traffic led to organs being transported across the Bay between hospitals for transplant being delayed, consequently delaying transplant procedures.
The protest was intended in part to get the attention of President Biden, who was in town for the APEC summit and to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two leaders had just had a private meeting at the Filoli mansion in San Mateo County on Wednesday, and each attended events in San Francisco the previous night.
The protest on the bridge was one dozens of protest activities that week tied to the APEC gathering.
It remains to be seen whether some of the alleged protesters being charged will claim not even to have been involved in the protest — but just happened to be among the vehicles caught in the front lines of traffic, and had gotten out of their cars for various reasons.
As KTVU reported at the time, a retired firefighter from Pleasanton, Masoud Barukzai, was arrested after he said he got out of his car to intervene in a woman's arrest whom he felt was being unjustly arrested by police. Barukzai said he saw the woman, clearly late for work, go to the trunk of her car to retrieve what might have been architectural drawings, and then CHP officers accused her of having a Palestinian flag in her car.
A Stanford physics professor, Lauren Tompkins, said she was subsequently arrested for stepping out of her car to complain that Barukzai's arrest appeared unjust.
It sounds like, among the 80 or so arrested, some may have just been part of this domino effect of people getting out of their cars amid the chaos, and getting arrested just for being there. But will they be able to prove it?
And Jenkins hasn't exactly endeared herself to antiwar and pro-Palestine protesters, having made a tweet-gaffe about another protest march in October, referring to it as "pro-Hamas march."