Middle Eastern man says DA is racially profiling him for Bay Bridge protest

Masoud Barukzai, a retired firefighter and Lauren Tomkins, a Stanford professor, said they were wrongfully detained on the Bay Bridge. Nov. 15, 2023 

Masoud Mohammed Barukzai, a US citizen and firefighter, is vehemently fighting the misdemeanor counts he's been charged with by the San Francisco District Attorney as hundreds of people participated in a pro-Palestinian protest on the Bay Bridge when President Biden was in town. 

"It's got to be my name," the retired Pleasanton firefighter told KTVU in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. "I'm from Afghanistan. I'm a Middle Eastern man with a beard on a bridge during commute hours." 

He said he is trying to get the "ridiculous" charges of failure to disperse at an illegal protest and unlawful assembly to be dismissed, but so far, he said he has to fight these charges along with 80 other people DA Brooke Jenkins' office charged stemming from the protest.

The charges stem from Nov. 16, when hundreds of people urging for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war took over the Bay Bridge for hours when Biden and other world leaders were in San Francisco for the APEC Summit. 

A total of 17 people had their first appearance in court on Monday with arraignment continued to Feb. 1 and 2. The remaining 63 people are scheduled for arraignment in San Francisco Superior Court in batches throughout this week.

Stanford physics professor, Lauren Tompkins, a woman he was standing with on the bridge that day, said her charges have been dismissed. 

Barukzai noted that other people with "blond hair and blue eyes" were probably either never charged or had their charges dropped because of the way they look.

"And I'm still being dragged through this," he said. "I've been made to feel like a criminal." 

As Barukzai maintains, he was on his way to take a flight – ticket in hand – when the protest, which he knew nothing about, erupted. He got out of his truck to help a woman he felt was being harassed by police and he recorded what was going on to show his son, just like thousands of other people who had also gotten out of his car. 

"So again, I think I was singled out that day," he said. "Now, what I don't understand is that some of the other bystanders and rioters, their charges have been dropped and not mine. So for me, it's really interesting to see what it is that they're trying to accomplish by dragging me through this when there's zero evidence of anything. I had previous flights booked to, you know, to my work destination that same morning."

After he fights his criminal charges, Barukzai said he's been in touch with legal represenation about possibly filing a lawsuit.