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Protesters ‘pack’ S.F. courts to support those arrested on Bay Bridge after Gaza protest

Excerpt from The San Francisco Chronicle

By Nora Mishanec, David Hernandez | Read the full story here.

As the first of about 80 people arrested for blockading the Bay Bridge during last month’s APEC summit headed to court on Monday, they and their supporters rallied to “pack the courts” in another show of support for a cease-fire in Gaza. 

Standing on the front steps of the San Francisco Hall of Justice, the group of about 200 people also called on District Attorney Brooke Jenkins to drop all charges in connection with the November protest, in which demonstrators blocked access to San Francisco on the bridge for several hours. 

Seventeen of the defendants appeared before a judge but did not enter pleas because they want time to consult with their attorneys, said attorney Emily Rose Johns, who represented them for the purpose of their first court appearance. The defendants are each facing five misdemeanors, Johns said, with dozens more protesters expected to be arraigned throughout the week.

Johns, who previously represented people arrested at Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the Bay Area, characterized the charges as “inflammatory” and said they are unusual following non-violent protests. 

The charges stem from the peaceful protest that overtook the bridge on Nov. 16, the day Biden addressed members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation at San Francisco’s Moscone Center. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators calling for the cease-fire poured onto the bridge, halting traffic for four hours until they were taken away in sheriff’s buses.

In addition to snarling bridge traffic for hours, the protests delayed the transfer of at least three organs for patients awaiting transplants, according to UCSF hospitals. 

Standing on the steps of the courthouse ahead of the arraignments, Aisha Nizar, who identified herself as one of the demonstrators arrested, said the charges had not damped the group’s ire. 

“We are more resolute in our demands for a cease-fire than ever,” said Nizar, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement.

Maisa Morrar, an Oakland-based physician’s assistant, wore a white lab coat emblazoned with a call for Israel to “stop bombing hospitals.” Morrar, who identified herself as a Palestinian, a Muslim and an Arab who was arrested on the bridge, said Monday’s protest was about more than asking prosecutors to drop the charges.

“This movement is bigger than Palestine, this is the people’s movement,” she said. “These chains and court dates won’t hold us down.”

Attorney Rachel Lederman of the Center for Protest Law and Litigation said she believes Jenkins is targeting protesters “to show she’s tough on crime.”