Authorities say 81 people were arrested Thursday after a group of protesters shut down several lanes of the Bay Bridge during the morning rush hour causing major delays and disrupting traffic heading into San Francisco.
Local TV news outlets broadcasting the protest showed dozens of protesters from many organizations taking to the bridge calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. They began blocking westbound lanes shortly before 8 a.m.
Broadcast footage also showed numerous protesters chanting and tying themselves together with chains. Many protesters did a ‘die-in’ and were lying down with white sheets covering them that said, “Stop the genocide.”
California Highway Patrol officers declared the protest an “unlawful demonstration” and arrested protesters using zip ties and placing them in buses, officials with the highway patrol said.
“We are 100 percent in support of people’s rights to exercise their First Amendment, but this is the wrong way to do it,” California Highway Patrol Chief Ezery Beauchamp told reporters during a briefing. “This is 100 percent wrong, not acceptable, and is illegal to do.”
San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto later told KGO-TV that one protester remains in custody and that the remaining protesters arrested were cited and released. The protesters are facing charges of unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, both misdemeanors, the sheriff said.
Thursday’s protest coincides with the weeklong Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held in San Francisco and comes a day after several protests occurred across the San Francisco Bay Area in response to the event. Hundreds of protesters gathered Wednesday for various demonstrations ranging from the conflict in the Middle East, the U.S.’s role in it, and activities surrounding the summit as clashes between pro- and anti-China demonstrators.
The protest was organized by several groups, including the Palestinian Youth Movement and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC Bay Area). In several posts on X, formerly Twitter, AROC said the protesters took to the Bay Bridge “in defense of Palestinian liberation!”
“There’s a genocide happening in #Gaza and @POTUS is hosting cocktail parties in #SanFrancisco,” AROC posted. “Bay Area has shut down the Bay Bridge to demand #CeasefireNOW.”
California Department of Transportation spokesman Bart Ney told KTVU-TV the protest will affect traffic all day. By noon local time, all westbound lanes on the bridge reopened, California Highway Patrol officer Adib Zeid said.
Beauchamp added they would have to tow dozens of vehicles, as many protesters who drove onto the bridge during the protest likely tossed their keys into the Pacific Ocean, further causing the massive delay on the bridge.
Ney, the state transportation spokesman, told KGO-TV Thursday that 29 abandoned vehicles were towed off the bridge. More than 280,000 vehicles travel across the span daily, Ney said.
Beauchamp said the protesters were well-organized as the highway patrol did as much as it could.
Typically, protesters try to walk on the Bay Bridge, instead of driving, to block traffic during demonstrations.
“I will say that we were not caught off guard. This was something that we were anticipating happening. We were here within a couple of minutes, but they were planned, they worked together, they brought their vehicles to a stop, and they got that accomplished within seconds,” Beauchamp said. “Again, you can protest you can your First Amendment rights but not on the Bay Bridge.”