San Francisco protesters who blocked bridge to demand cease-fire will avoid criminal proceedings

Seventy-eight protesters were ordered to do five hours of community service and pay restitution to avoid criminal proceedings for allegedly blocking traffic on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge for hours in November to demand a cease-fire in Gaza, prosecutors said.

The Nov. 16 protest came as San Francisco was hosting President Joe Biden and other world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. Protesters calling for a cease-fire have also blocked major roadways in cities including Los Angeles, New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

“This is a victory not only for those exercising their right to protest a genocide being fueled by their tax dollars, but for the growing global movement demanding freedom for the Palestinian people,” Aisha Nizar, one of the protesters, said in a news release. “We emerge from this case even stronger and more united in our commitment to one another and to the people of Palestine.”

About 200 protesters participated in the San Francisco demonstration during the global trade summit, and they blocked all lanes of traffic into San Francisco on the bridge’s upper deck, with some drivers tossing their keys into the bay. Eighty people 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 80 suspects faced 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 the public. Prosecutors dropped one case for insufficient evidence, and another person declined the court’s offer for a pre-trial diversion program.

The remaining 78 accepted the court’s offer, which will include each person paying a to-be-determined restitution amount to someone who needed to be evacuated from the bridge, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

“We remain committed to ensuring that San Francisco is a safe city for everyone who lives and enters our city,” District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said in a statement. “We will continue to ensure that appropriate avenues for the expression of free speech and social advocacy exist and are protected in San Francisco. I truly believe that we can achieve engaging in free expression while maintaining the safety of our communities.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January approved a resolution calling for an extended cease-fire in Gaza that condemned Hamas as well as the Israeli government and urged the Biden administration to press for the release of all hostages and delivery of humanitarian aid. Dozens of other U.S. cities have approved similar resolutions that have no legal authority but reflect pressure on local governments to speak up on the Israel-Hamas war.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, the territory’s Health Ministry says. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but it says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in southern Israel during the Oct. 7 attack that began the war. Around 250 people were abducted, and Hamas is believed to still be holding about 100 hostages.

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