San Francisco begins prosecuting dozens who blocked bridge in Gaza ceasefire protest

Charges to be leveled against 80 activists throughout week following demonstration during Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November

FILE - Demonstrators shut down the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in conjunction with the APEC Summit taking place on November 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/ Noah Berger)
FILE - Demonstrators shut down the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in conjunction with the APEC Summit taking place on November 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/ Noah Berger)

San Francisco prosecutors on Monday began charging 80 protesters who last month blocked traffic for hours on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while demanding US President Joe Biden call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The protest came as San Francisco was hosting Biden and other world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Seventeen people appeared in court on Monday to face charges of false imprisonment, refusing to comply with a peace officer, unlawful public assembly, refusing to disperse and obstruction of street, sidewalk or other place open to public. Their arraignments were continued to February.

Hundreds of demonstrators holding signs that read “Biden: Ceasefire Now” and “Free Free Palestine” and “Drop the Charges!” held a news conference outside the court before the arraignments of those charged began.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas on October 7, when some 3,000 terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities, and taking around 240 hostages to Gaza.

Israel, backed by Washington, has rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would leave Hamas in place to regroup and repeat its assault, putting Israelis at risk.

The war has reverberated through civil society in the US and elsewhere, sparking dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests. Jewish groups and others say some demonstrations include antisemitic rhetoric, including denying Israel’s right to exist.

Aisha Nizar, of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said she was among those who were arrested and charged on November 16, but doesn’t plan to stop demonstrating. “We are more resolute in our demands for a cease-fire than ever,” Nizar said outside the court.

FILE – Demonstrators clash with police as arrests are made after shutting down the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge in conjunction with the APEC Summit taking place, November 16, 2023, in San Francisco. (AP/Noah Berger)

About 200 protesters participated in the demonstration during the global trade summit, and blocked all lanes of traffic into San Francisco on the bridge’s upper deck, with some drivers tossing their keys into the bay. Dozens were arrested and 29 vehicles were towed.

The demonstrators charged will be arraigned in batches throughout the week, prosecutors said.

“While we must protect avenues for free speech, the exercise of free speech cannot compromise public safety,” San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a statement announcing the charges. “The demonstration on the Bay Bridge that snarled traffic for hours had a tremendous impact on those who were stuck on the bridge for hours and required tremendous public resources to resolve.”

Protesters calling for a ceasefire have also blocked major roadways in cities including Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Myles Snyder, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Police, said Monday that 32 protesters were arrested by state police in Philadelphia after a ceasefire protest Thursday that blocked an interstate. They were processed on charges of disorderly conduct before being released.

FILE – Police officers detain a protester blocking the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge while demonstrating against the APEC summit and the Israel-Hamas war, November 16, 2023, in San Francisco. San Francisco’s District Attorney’s Office on Monday began charging demonstrators who blocked traffic for hours last month on the Bay Bridge to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.(AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

A Minneapolis city spokesperson said Minnesota State Patrol troopers arrested six people after protesters blocked traffic on an interstate in Minneapolis last week.

Five were booked for alleged misdemeanor traffic obstruction. The Minneapolis city attorney is reviewing charges against five of them and declined to press charges against the sixth.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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