Protesters who blocked Bay Bridge on MLK Day call for charges to be dropped

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SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A group of protesters who were arrested for blocking the Bay Bridge earlier this year in an effort to call attention to police shootings are now waging a campaign to get the charges against them dropped.

The group, referred to collectively as the Bay Bridge 25, blocked all westbound lanes of the bridge on January 18 for around 30 minutes by chaining themselves together and to several cars just before 4 p.m.

The California Highway Patrol arrested 25 people at the scene on suspicion of misdemeanors including obstructing traffic on a freeway, public nuisance and unlawful assembly, and impounded their cars.

One of a series of actions taking place around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the protest by the groups black.seed and the Black Queer Liberation Collective called for the termination and charging of officers involved in police shootings including that of Mario Woods in San Francisco in December, as well as the resignation or termination of other local officials.

All 25 people arrested were ultimately charged by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office with infractions, including pedestrian failing to yield the right of way, failure to obey signs, stopping or parking a vehicle on a freeway and walking upon a vehicular crossing, according to attorney Hasmik Geghamyan.

While the vehicle code indicates fines for those infractions do not usually exceed $100, Geghamyan said each member of the group is facing total fines of just under $900.

The group is challenging the charges in court and, along with supporters, launched a campaign on Twitter this week using the hashtag #baybridge25 calling on District Attorney George Gascon to drop the charges.

In addition, they delivered a letter to Gascon’s office earlier this week signed by more than 30 individuals and more than 40 organizations.

The letter refers to Gascon’s reputation as a progressive, calling the decision to press charges “out of character,” and urging him to “show your constituents and the world that you are a forward-thinking public
servant with a demonstrated passion for justice.”

Max Szabo, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, Thursday said that the office had chosen to charge the group with infractions, which are typically heard in traffic court, rather than misdemeanors after “balancing their free speech rights with the danger posed to themselves and others by blocking the Bay Bridge.”

“We support their right to protest, but their choice of venue created the potential for significant danger,” Szabo said. Ben Jones, a 30-year-old San Francisco resident who participated in the action, said that the district attorney should be focusing attention and resources on charging police who shoot civilians rather than those who are trying to draw attention to police violence.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Jones said. “I think if the DA wants to be on the right side of history, then the choice is obvious.”

Jones said that he and other group members took precautions to make sure that no one was hurt, but felt it was necessary to take dramatic action to draw attention to black health and problems affecting the black
community.

“If going through the proper channels worked for people there wouldn’t have been a Revolutionary War or a Civil War or a Civil Rights Movement,” he said.

Genghamyan said attorneys for the group are scheduled to have conference with prosecutors Friday and are prepared to take the matter to trial.

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