Police took 10 war protesters into custody Monday at the Golden Gate
Bridge after a three-hour standoff that backed up New Year's Day traffic and
frayed tempers of tourists and bicyclists hoping for a jaunt across the span.
The confrontation began at noon when about a dozen members of the women's
peace organization CodePink prepared to walk across the bridge as a vigil to
remember the 3,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.
Officers from the California Highway Patrol, the Golden Gate Bridge
District and the San Francisco Police Department barred their way and also
refused to let tourists onto the span.
The protesters eventually decided to cross a police line and were taken
into custody. Bicyclists began crossing the west side of bridge again by 3
p.m., but foot traffic on the east side of the bridge remained off limits after
the protesters dispersed.
Graciela Rennella (left) and Toby Blome (center), both with CodePink, walked with several others from the north side across the Golden Gate Bridge. Chronicle photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice
Among those detained was CodePink co-founder and prominent San Francisco
peace activist Medea Benjamin.
"We didn't do anything illegal, nor did we plan to do anything illegal,"
she said after she was released from custody. Benjamin said she and nine others
have been charged with trespassing, although Highway Patrol officials wouldn't
confirm the arrests.
Before she was taken into custody, Benjamin said that the group planned a
"solemn march," single-file, across the bridge, with no intention of disrupting
tourists or traffic. They planned to meet another small group of protesters
crossing from the Vista Point parking area on the north end of the bridge.
But police, citing security concerns, closed the sidewalk entrances, and a
"Vigils are taking place all across the country. This may be the only
place -- in Nancy Pelosi's home district -- where that's not allowed," said
Benjamin, who has been arrested numerous times for protesting the war,
including her disruption of a speech by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
before a joint session of Congress in July.
Police at the scene said they were concerned about what the protesters
might do once they were on the bridge.
KGO cameraman Randy Davis (left) was shoved by Golden Gate Bridge officer when he tried to shoot footage of an anti-war protest at the Golden Gate Bridge. His camera was broken and his face was cut in the incident. Chronicle photo by Deanne Fitzmaurice
Police closed off a lane of northbound bridge traffic as they prepared to
arrest the protesters, leading to a major traffic back-up on Doyle Drive back
to the Marina District and on the 19th Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard approaches
to the bridge.
Tourist milled outside the south entrance to the bridge sidewalk, some
bemused, some outraged that they were forbidden to walk through the gate.
Terry and Tom Eckstrom of El Cerrito said they make a habit every year to
walk across the Golden Gate Bridge on New Year's Day. They made it across from
Vista Point in the morning, but found their way back blocked by police. "We got
to this side and there's all this commotion," said Terry. "It's a great cause,
and I believe in it. But it is inconvenient."
Early in the standoff, KGO television cameraman Randy Davis was cut on the
nose and his camera damaged in a scuffle with a Bridge District police officer.
KGO news director Kevin Keeshan called the scuffle an illegal assault
by a police officer and said the station intended to file a report with the
©2006 San Francisco Chronicle