San Francisco --
An anti-war protest on the Golden Gate Bridge turned ugly Saturday
when police stopped northbound traffic to arrest demonstrators, causing a
backup several miles long.
Authorities arrested 30 of the approximately 150 participants in the march,
organized by the All People's Coalition to Stop U.S. Terror and Occupation.
Police arrest a man who identified himself as Raife Secret Squirrel, 19, of San Francisco on the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday. More than 30 were held at an anti-war rally that led to a backup miles long. Chronicle photo by Lacy Atkins
The coalition, which represents a variety of left-wing causes -- including
support for Palestinians and opposition to U.S. policy in Afghanistan and the
Mideast -- had a permit to march from Crissy Field across the eastern walkway
of the bridge and back between noon and 2 p.m.
But before the marchers finished crossing the bridge, the California
Highway Patrol ordered them to turn around and leave the bridge or face
When some of the demonstrators refused, the CHP began making arrests and
closed some or all northbound lanes for the next half hour.
"They agreed to start their walk in time to complete it by 2 p.m.," said
bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie.
The march was allowed on the condition that activists would not carry signs,
banners or noisemakers such as bullhorns or drums, said Currie. Officers
stationed at the entrance to the bridge checked each protester and removed
such items from some of them.
At 1:35 p.m., about 20 CHP officers clad in riot gear blocked the eastern
walkway and told demonstrators to turn around. When the 150 marchers did not
immediately obey, the CHP decided to force them to return.
Many refused and sat down while others chanted "Shame! Shame! Shame!" as
officers moved in, carrying batons and using pepper spray. Police arrested
some protesters, shoving others back.
Some demonstrators accused the highway patrol of overreacting and causing
the traffic delays.
"This response was totally uncalled for -- it's a huge overreaction to a
peaceful event," said co-organizer Wendy Snyder.
"We stayed on the sidewalk," said co-organizer Claudia Hernandez, 29, of
Pinole. "We just wanted to finish the march and they began pushing us back."
CHP spokesman Sgt. Wayne Ziese said all but one of those arrested were
booked on misdemeanor charges, including obstructing a walkway and resisting
arrest. One girl, who told police she was 11 years old, was booked on a felony
charge of assaulting an officer, and taken to juvenile hall, he said.
Ziese said the arrests were necessary to ensure that the protesters would
be off the bridge by the 2 p.m. deadline.
"It was quite clear they were not going to be able to comply with that
permit," Ziese said.
"They should have made it clear to us earlier," countered Bakaria Olatunji,
chairman of the coalition. "If they had left us alone and let us finish, this
would have all gone smoother, even if it took longer."
During the clash and the arrests that followed, traffic slowed dramatically.
Northbound traffic was stopped several times as the CHP parked police vans on
northbound lanes. For about 20 minutes only one northbound lane was open, and
for several minutes traffic in both directions was stopped to allow a police
bus filled with arrestees to turn around on the bridge.
Authorities said cars were backed up throughout the Marina District all the
way to Van Ness Avenue and along 19th Avenue into the Sunset District.
Southbound traffic was also very slow from Sausalito to the bridge.
The arrests left many joggers and tourists confused. Some found themselves
trapped behind police lines.
"I'm just appalled by the number of police for this little protest," said
jogger Niki Chernin.
"I don't think these demonstrators presented any threat to anyone. The
police are the ones who shut everything down. I would rather see all of these
officers looking for terrorists in airports."
Until the confrontation with the CHP, traffic on the bridge appeared to be
running smoothly, even though demonstrators chanted, waved and yelled slogans
at northbound drivers.
"It looks like a normal busy weekend," said Sgt. Meg Planka, a few minutes
before the confrontation. "It's busy but it's moving."
Many motorists waved and honked to show support for the demonstrators.
Others were angered by the delays.
One woman riding in a Lexus SUV rolled down her window, screaming "Why did
you do this? You ruined my day. What was the point?" When demonstrators tried
to talk to her, she rolled up her window, folded her arms and shook her head
from side to side.
Some media workers covering the event were also shoved by police. Cameraman
J.C. Lockhart of KTVU was knocked down when a CHP officer shoved him as he
tried to step around a cluster of demonstrators during the confrontation.
The first time a protest shut down the Golden Gate Bridge was in 1989, when
several dozen AIDS activists stepped into rush-hour traffic to protest the
slow pace of AIDS research.
Demonstrations against the U.S. role in the Persian Gulf War briefly shut
down the bridge in 1991, prompting a move by legislators to pass a state law
to fine demonstrators up to $10,000 for disrupting traffic on the span.
In 1996, actor Woody Harrelson and eight others tied up traffic for more
than five hours when they scaled the bridge to make a point about redwood
forests. Although the demonstrators did not block cars, authorities shut down
lanes of the bridge to get Harrelson and the others down.