California Highway Patrol officers arrested 25 demonstrators after the group used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday to chain themselves and their vehicles across all five westbound lanes of the Bay Bridge, bringing traffic to a standstill as they demanded racial equity.
The activists froze traffic for about 30 minutes before they were arrested on suspicion of public nuisance, unlawful assembly and obstructing free passage, CHP Officer Vu Williams said.
The protesters apparently drove onto the bridge in five cars shortly before 4 p.m., stopping near the new eastern span tower — one in each of the five lanes. They stepped out on Interstate 80, just east of Yerba Buena Island, and strung chain through each of the cars and across the lanes, forcing traffic to back up well into the MacArthur Maze in the East Bay.
CHP officers used bolt cutters to cut the chains, Williams said.
Police began arresting the protesters, who were placed in zip-tie handcuffs and moved to the shoulder of the highway so that lanes could be reopened.
“There was no force used; everyone cooperated,” Williams said. “The fortunate thing was today was a public holiday, so traffic wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”
The protest group, an offshoot of the Black Lives Matter movement, is “a black queer liberation collective” that calls itself Black.Seed, Mia Birdsong, a spokeswoman for the group, said.
“This action in particular was really about taking a strong, courageous stand in solidarity with MLK,” Birdsong said.
The activists align themselves with the Anti-Police Terror Project, and their display came with a set of demands, including the resignation of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and immediate terminations of San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent. They also demanded an end to city funding of police and called for city investment in affordable housing to keep “black, brown and indigenous” people in San Francisco and Oakland.
Protesters had planned to stay chained to the structure for 96 minutes to represent the 96 hours of direct action protests that took place in Oakland over the weekend. After 30 minutes, three lanes were opened, but the traffic jam continued into the early evening.
Drivers sat on top of their cars, took selfies and popped out their sunroofs as traffic reached a standstill. A number of people stopped at the toll plaza to use the restroom.
Chris Day, driving to his home in Redwood City with two friends in the car, looked at a traffic app that said it would take two hours and 39 minutes to cross the bridge, a likely overestimation.
“I feel like whatever they’re protesting, I want to be against it right now,” he said. “People have the right to protest, but they don’t have the right to block traffic. What if someone has a job interview or an important appointment?”
For Robert Holtz of Ripon (San Joaquin County), the delay was standing in the way of him getting to a memorial service.
“They could put their energies into a lot more useful venues than sitting on a bridge making everyone suffer,” Holtz said.
The action occurred just after the California Highway Patrol had shut down the eastbound Interstate 80 Powell Street off-ramp in Emeryville during a separate Monday demonstration that began in Oakland and moved into Emeryville.
Chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, police brutality’s got to go,” and “Black lives matter,” the diverse crowd of activists marched peacefully all day along the East Bay streets, expressing outrage over what they called the unfair treatment of blacks at the hands of law enforcement.
“We’re just trying to make the change we can and take it a day at a time,” said Nkei Oruche, marching with her husband and two children.
In the year since the last Martin Luther King Jr. Day, much has happened. In April, riots broke out in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a fatal spine injury during an arrest.
In June, the black community decried an act of domestic terrorism after a white man gunned down nine black parishioners in Charleston, S.C., inside of a church, an act police continue to investigate as a hate crime.
In August, authorities called a state of emergency in Ferguson, Mo., as officers arrested enraged protesters fighting against what they called racial bias a year after the shooting death of Michael Brown.
“I’m just here as a black person representing my family,” Oruche, one of the Oakland marchers, said. “It’s important to start from an early age and let my kids know what’s important.”
Victor Guendulain of San Jose held up a sign that read “migrant workers for black resistance” as he walked to “draw attention to the issues that black folks are going through and make the connection to migrant workers who face similar police repression and intimidation.”