Prosecutors Charging 80 Protesters Who Blocked Bay Area Bridge to Demand Cease-Fire

APEC Summit in San Francisco
Security force members detain a person after demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas blocked the Bay Bridge, a key commuter route into the city which is hosting the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summitin San Francisco, California, Nov. 16, 2023. (Reuters/Loren Elliott)

By The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — 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 a cease-fire in Gaza.

The protest came as San Francisco was hosting President Joe 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.

Aisha Nizar, of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said she was among those who were arrested and charged 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.

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 of them were arrested and 29 vehicles were towed. Protesters demanded that Biden call for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.

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 cease-fire 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 cease-fire protest Thursday that blocked an interstate. They were processed on charges of disorderly conduct before being released.

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.

temporary cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, which Qatar helped broker, was announced on Nov. 21 but the war resumed on Dec. 1 after talks to lengthen the truce collapsed.

The war started after Hamas broke through Israel’s high-tech “Iron Wall” on Oct. 7 and launched an attack that left more than 1,200 Israelis dead. Hamas also took nearly 240 people hostage.

More than 19,400 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.