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CHP ‘disentanglement team’ removes protesters blocking Bay Area freeways

“Those involved utilized chains, barrels and pipes to chain themselves together and block the roadway.”

Israel Palestinians Protests

Demonstrators protesting the ongoing war in Gaza, block southbound traffic on Interstate 880 in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, April 15, 2024. Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area was also snarled for hours Monday morning as pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down both directions of the Golden Gate Bridge and stalled a 17-mile (27-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 880 in Oakland. (Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Brontë Wittpenn/AP

By Rick Hurd
East Bay Times

OAKLAND, Calif. — Jackhammers, saws and drills were out in force on Interstate 880 on Monday, but it wasn’t for a construction project. Instead, the California Highway Patrol had to figure out how to remove protesters from the freeway who had used large barrels, concrete and pipes to try to stay in place.

There were demonstrators doing everything they could to keep the roadway blocked on one side, and a line of angry motorists, fuming at being trapped in traffic, on the other.

As CHP spokesperson Officer Andrew Barclay summed up: “It was a day.”

The protests against the war in Gaza — during which demonstrators gathered on northbound I-880 near the 5th Avenue exit in Oakland; on the 7th Street and frontage road on-ramp to southbound I-880; and on the Golden Gate Bridge — resulted in hours of traffic delays and ended with 38 people arrested. Twenty-six of them were on the bridge.

It brought a mixture of reactions — including from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who, during a Tuesday news conference in Larkspur about a climate agreement with Norway, said he supports the protesters’ cause, but not their tactics.

“I respect freedom of speech and the right to protest. I revere it,” Newsom said. “It’s foundational in who we are. And I certainly respect the cause around the ceasefire.

“But I think there’s a better way of expressing it than denying people the ability to get to work. Someone in an emergency that can’t get to their destination, I don’t think that’s helpful. I don’t think that’s responsible. I think there are better ways of protesting.”

The CHP arrested five people at the 7th Street protests, and seven in the area just south of the 5th Avenue / Embarcadero exit from the northbound side. Those protesters shut the northbound direction of the freeway down for some six hours, after attaching themselves to barrels in each lane at 6:30 a.m.

How they did it and how the CHP eventually got them loose was anything but routine.

“Those involved utilized chains, barrels and pipes to chain themselves together and block the roadway,” the CHP said in a statement late Monday night.

On Tuesday, Barclay offered more specifics, saying the protesters ran cylinder pipes through barrels, and then inserted rebar through the pipes. Rebar is a long piece of metal that reinforces a concrete foundation.

The protesters poured concrete over the pipes to hold them in place, then grabbed hold of the rebar inside the barrels once they were placed on the road. The result was that the CHP couldn’t easily remove the protesters without harming them.

“They held onto the piece of rebar and a secondary device that was clipped onto the rebar, so they wouldn’t be pulled out,” Barclay said. “We had to go through the barrel, through the pipe and rebar, then get the concrete from below the pipe out. Then we cut the rebar from either side.”

Barclay said the CHP has a “disentanglement team” that is used for exactly such situations. They handled the tools and eventually removed the rebar the protesters were using to hold onto the barrels. The CHP began worked from the far left lane to the right lane, and opened lanes as they removed the protesters.

“It was a very lengthy and complex process,” Barclay said. “It took a long time with each protester we were trying to get loose.”

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The CHP said they would seek charges from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office including unlawful assembly; remaining at an unlawful assembly; refusal to comply with a lawful order; resisting or delaying an officer; being an unlawful pedestrian on the freeway; conspiracy to commit a crime; and false imprisonment. For those 26 people arrested on the Golden Gate Bridge , the CHP said it would seek charges of unlawful stopping on a bridge.

On Tuesday, the Center for Protest Law and Litigation said in a news release that those on the bridge had been jailed “on trumped up felony conspiracy charges to preemptively punish them for their advocacy by holding them in jail.” They added that the “overcharging by the CHP” was an “abusive attempt” to silence people demanding a ceasefire in Gaza .

Barclay responded that the agency’s job is to keep state highways flowing safely for all residents.

“We’ve said this numerous times: Our department agrees that the First Amendment right to protest is a well-guarded one that we’re not looking to infringe upon,” Barclay said. “But you don’t have the right to close public roadways. You don’t have the right to inconvenience tens of thousands of people to get your message out.”

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U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton , R- Arkansas , said on social media after Monday’s protests that people stuck in traffic behind such protesters should “take matters in your own hands to get them out of the way.”

Monday’s demonstrations were part of a global April 15 “economic blockade” by pro-Palestinian activists. A website called said the move was aimed at “blocking the arteries of capitalism and jamming the wheels of production” because “the global economy is complicit in genocide.” Similar demonstrations were seen in other U.S. cities including Chicago , Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon .

A group of about 80 protesters gathered Monday evening for a protest near Tesla’s factory in Fremont ; a police spokesperson said that officers on the scene “deployed pepper balls in response to the actions of those present at the protest.” It was not immediately clear if the protesters were allied with any specific organization or why they had chosen the Fremont location.

Bay Area News Group staff writers Paul Rogers and Jason Green contributed to this report.

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