SAN FRANCISCO — The California Highway Patrol today was criticized by civil rights groups demanding an investigation into the arrest of an 11-year-old Palestinian girl they allege was “brutally attacked” when an anti-war demonstration on the Golden Gate Bridge soured Saturday.
“In our mind the CHP has committed a hate crime against a child of color,” said a member of the Arab-Anti Discrimination Committee at a news conference outside the CHP San Francisco office this afternoon. “It's a severe blow to the sense of security and sense of safety of the ethnic community.”
Los Gatos fifth-grader Sophia Ibrahim was arrested on felony assault of a peace officer after she allegedly took a swing at a CHP officer trying to shuttle the unruly crowd off the bridge before the demonstration's permit expired. The groups allege four officers pinned the girl to the ground, leaving her with bruised wrists and ankles from restraints, as well as deeper psychological wounds.
“That girl was assaulted in a ridiculous abuse of power by the CHP when she was simply exercising her constitutional right to protest,'” a member of Bay Area Police Watch said. “They violated her First Amendment rights.”
CHP spokesman Wayne Ziese said officers used “reasonable restraint” against the girl that at the time they estimated to be about 16.
Ziese said her ethnicity was not taken into account, and she was arrested for the alleged assault which the groups deny occurred.
Around 30 others were arrested that day, mostly for obstructing the bridge walkway and resisting arrest, at was intended to be a peaceful demonstration opposing U.S. military policies in Afghanistan and the Middle
East. Ibrahim's brother, 21-year-old Mousa Ibrahim, was also arrested for felony child endangerment for bringing the girl to the demonstration.
“As a parent, if I were going to take a child to an event where such a disruption is possible and things start to go sideways, I would remove that child from the scene right away,'” Ziese said.
The CHP says the demonstration organizer, All's People Coalition to Stop U.S. Terror and Occupation, had a permit for the protesters to march across the bridge on the eastern walkway from San Francisco to Marin County and back again between the hours of noon and 2 p.m.
But by 1:35 p.m., the group had not yet completed the first leg of its journey, so bridge officials requested that the CHP order them to turn around and vacate the bridge immediately. Around 150 officers from various agencies were at the scene; around the same number of protesters were in attendance.
The law enforcement action angered the protesters, who argued that the permit had not yet expired and that there was no need for the CHP to respond armed with batons and pepper spray. The marchers said that it was bad judgment by the CHP that caused the conflict and brought bridge-bound traffic to a standstill for hours.
Ziese said batons and pepper spray are a necessary defensive
measures used to protect the officers.
At Friday's news conference a coalition of civil rights organizations, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union, called for a full investigation into the incident and for the officers who arrested young Ibrahim to be reprimanded.
They additionally want the CHP officers to undergo sensitivity training that focuses on communities that are the targets of hate crimes.
Further, they want the CHP to use community input to re-evaluate their crowd control policies for dealing with peaceful demonstrations.
Ziese said the CHP's policies were reworked and approved by a citizens oversight committee after the Rodney King riots in the early 1990s.
The groups have not contacted the CHP about their demands, Ziese said, and have only made complaints to the media thus far.
“Once we receive a complaint, from the organizations or the family, we would launch an investigation,” Ziese said. “We have not received a complaint.”