November 16, 2023 - 7:54 pm
SAN FRANCISCO — Demonstrators seeking a cease-fire in Gaza blocked bridges on both sides of the United States on Thursday, including a major span into San Francisco during a global trade summit involving President Joe Biden and other world leaders.
Also, after a tense night of protests outside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, demonstrators again descended on Capitol Hill demanding a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, though in much smaller numbers.
Eighty protesters were arrested on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and 29 vehicles were towed after demonstrators blocked all lanes on the upper deck, with some drivers tossing their keys into the bay.
One person was booked into county jail but the others were cited and released, the San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center said in an email.
Traffic was snarled for hours after more than 200 demonstrators demanded that Biden, in San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ conference, call for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
In Boston, about 100 protesters stopped traffic on the bridge connecting the city to Cambridge for more than two hours during the morning rush.
They chanted “Cease-fire now!” and held a banner with the words “Jews say: Ceasefire now” and they called on one of Massachusetts’ two senators, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, to do more to halt the hostilities.
On the West Coast, Aisha Nizar, of the Palestinian Youth Movement, said in a statement that President Biden was “hosting cocktail parties in San Francisco” while thousands of people were being killed in Gaza. Protesters unfurled huge banners and some of them lay on the ground with white sheets draped over their bodies as part of a “die-in.”
California Highway Patrol division chief Ezery Beauchamp called the Bay Area protest highly coordinated. He said the patrol supports free speech rights but not a traffic shutdown that could prevent emergency vehicles from crossing.
“This is the wrong way to do it,” he said. “This is 100 percent wrong, it’s unacceptable and it’s illegal.”
Small number at Capitol
In Washington, D.C., members of the media and Capitol Police officers outnumbered the roughly 30 protesters who assembled Thursday afternoon in the Hart Senate Office Building. Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the progressive anti-war group Code Pink, said many protesters were struggling to gain access to the building because of security protocols that closed some entrances to the public.
Those who made it inside the building planned on visiting the offices of every Democratic woman in the Senate — and some Republican women as well, time permitting — to read messages from Gazan women, recite poetry and sing songs as they urged lawmakers to call for a cease-fire.
The demonstration came a day after a tense night of clashes between police and roughly 200 protesters gathered in front of the DNC headquarters while members of Congress were inside the building. According to Capitol Police, the group did not respond to orders from law enforcement to move back from the building and became violent.
“When the group moved dumpsters in front of the exits, pepper sprayed our officers and attempted to pick up the bike rack, our teams quickly introduced consequences — pulling people off the building, pushing them back, and clearing them from the area, so we could safely evacuate the Members and staff,” the Capitol Police said in a statement released Thursday.
Six officers were treated for injuries, which varied in severity from minor cuts, to being pepper sprayed, to being punched.
One demonstrator, Ruben Arthur Camacho, 24, of Woodbridge, New York, was arrested for assault on a police officer after he was allegedly observed slamming a female officer into a garage door and punching her in the face, police said.
Members of Congress in the building had to be evacuated.
One, Illinois Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the protesters had the constitutional right to assemble, “but blocking all entries to a building with multiple members of Congress in it, protected by Capitol Police officers who have lived through Jan. 6, is putting you and other innocent people at risk.”
House Speaker Mike Johnson weighed in Thursday, condemning the previous night’s demonstrations “in the strongest terms.”
“As Americans, we must unite with one voice in steadfast support of our ally Israel,” the Louisiana Republican said in a statement. “Congress will not be intimidated by this vile display of antisemitism.”
CQ-Roll Call contributed to this story.