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Demonstrators Pack SF Court in Support of Activists Arrested on Bay Bridge Last Month

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A group of people gather for a rally on the steps in front of a courthouse, speaking into a microphone, with a yellow banner that read' Ceasfire Now!' behind them.
EmilyRose Johns (left, in pink), an attorney representing the demonstrators, and activist Maisa Morrar (center, in white) lead a rally outside of San Francisco’s Hall of Justice on Dec. 18, 2023, in support of protesters arrested for shutting down the Bay Bridge last month.  (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

Supporters of the 80 people arrested for blocking the Bay Bridge last month packed San Francisco’s Hall of Justice on Monday for the protesters’ first court appearance, railing against District Attorney Brooke Jenkins for pursuing a series of misdemeanor charges and renewing calls for a cease-fire in Gaza.

More than 150 people gathered for an initial rally on the rain-soaked steps of the courthouse before heading inside for the hearing, crowding into the hallway outside of a second-floor courtroom while chanting, “Let us in!”

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Jenkins on Saturday announced five misdemeanor charges against the 80 people arrested last month, including unlawful public assembly, refusal to disperse, refusal to comply with police, obstruction of a public street and false imprisonment.

Of the 80 people arrested, 78 were protesters and two others were motorists not involved in the protest, according to an attorney for the demonstrators.

The DA’s office did not respond to a request for an interview. Jenkins previously said the protest “had a tremendous impact on those who were stuck on the bridge for hours and required tremendous public resources to resolve.”

During the dramatic Nov. 16 protest, demonstrators blocked all San Francisco-bound lanes of the bridge’s eastern span for multiple hours, snarling traffic for most of the morning. They unfurled banners calling on President Joe Biden, who was in town with other world leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, to support a cease-fire and end U.S. aid to Israel.

“The commonsense demand of a permanent cease-fire should be echoed by all our local elected and appointed officials,” said Lujain Al-Saleh, a member of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, who said she was among the protesters arrested that day.

“Instead, some are wasting more taxpayer dollars on criminalizing those who stand on the right side of history,” she added.

More than 19,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel’s more than two-month-long bombardment of Gaza, according to Gazan health officials. The Israeli military launched the attacks after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing roughly 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and taking about 240 hostages.

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In court on Monday, the defendants were formally advised of the charges against them and given time to review their options for counsel, said their attorney, EmilyRose Johns.

“We demand that they drop the charges. This is going to be an outrageous and inexcusable expense on the city and county of San Francisco to prosecute peaceful demonstrators,” Johns said.

Initial court appearances will continue this week before the protesters are officially arraigned on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.

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