Lafayette, CA

Expect a Fight Over El Curtola Bridge Protests

Thomas Smith

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(Original photograph courtesy Gado Images)

On a recent afternoon, a group of around 10 protesters set up on the El Curtola road overpass above Highway 24. Some carried Trump 2020 flags, and others had flags reading All Aboard the Trump Train, as well as American flags and at least one flag reading "Sloppy Joe", a negative reference to American President Joe Biden. Some held their flags by hand, whereas others had attached them to the fence on the overpass itself.

The protestors have gathered on the bridge routintely since at least mid 2020 to protest in favor of outsted President Donald Trump. The protests often coincide with important court dates, time periods during the November election, and the like.

Now, the City of Lafayette and Caltrains are reportedly working together in an attempt to shut the protests down, or at least move them to a different location. The protests draw a great deal of attention from motorists passing by on Highway 24 below the bridge, especially when counter protestors arrive and when confrontations can occur. Protesters have at times held up "Honk for Trump" signs, delibertly engaging the attention of motorists below.

Officials say that's a problem. According to local and state officials, the protesters' activities create a hazard to motorists on the highway below, by distracting them from driving, as well as presenting too many districtions in the middle of their visual fields.

The protests are often timed to coincide with busy rush hour periods, which means that thousands of cars pass under the overpass per hour, and could potentially be distracted by the protests. Officials say that the move is not partisan or based on the content of the protests themselves, but rather is a safety measure intended to end the distractions to drivers.

Officials also reportedly note that it is generally not legal to attach signs, flags and the like to a highway overpass. Flags and signs are often attached to the bridge, and this practice began during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, when signs wishing emergency workers luck and support were visible on the bridge. Protestors are likely capitalizing on that precedent in order to display their own politically motivated signs.

Officials also reportedly say that objects have fallen over the bridge during protests, and could pose a hazard to motorists below.

Regardless, it will likely be challenging for officials to stop the El Curtola road protests. While authorities have the right to take actions to protect public safety, much protest activity is covered under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Especially because the protests take place on what is likely public property, the First Amendment is likely to provide broad protections for the protesters if their actions are classified as protected speech.

If officials are able to show that the protests present a danger to residents or motorists, though, they may be able to ensure that the protestors move to a less risky location. They may also be able to enforce laws regarding the attachment of signs to the structure.

Overall, however, the First Amendment provides broad protections for protest activity. In the past, this has included activity which disrupts daily life in substantial ways, as long as the disruption doesn't cause safety issues. According to the ACLU, protestors often have the right to protest in traditional public forums, including streets. But they don't usually have the right to block traffic or cause safety issues with motorists or streets.

For that reason, the outcome of officials' efforts to stop the El Curtola overpass protests will likely hinge on whether they can show that the protests present a danger to motorists on Highway 24. That may prove a challenging case to make in the face of the First Amendment, but officials appear determined to proceed. Ultimately, one thing is nearly certain--the protests won't stop without significant efforts and a political and perhaps legal fight on behalf of all parties.

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Award-winning entrepreneur, and the co-founder and CEO of Gado Images. Thomas writes, speaks and consults about artificial intelligence, privacy, food, photography, tech, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a professional photographer, Thomas' photographic work regularly appears in publications worldwide. Pitches/news tips: tom@gadoimages.com

Lafayette, CA
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