DURHAM, N.C. -- Durham police have charged four people in connection with an hours-long protest Thursday on the Durham Freeway.
According to the Durham Police Department, protesters, including some in their vehicles, blocked Highway 147 at Mangum Street. Officers charged Olivia Linn, 27, Fatima Nur, 36, Jenae Taylor, 36, and Leah Whitehead, 28, with impeding traffic in connection with the protest.
Police said Linn, Taylor, and Whitehead turned themselves in Sunday and were released on a written promise to appear in court.
The fourth protestor named in the warrant, Fatima Nur has not turned herself in, police say.
Protesters during the incident blocked traffic for nearly three hours Thursday wearing anti-war paraphernalia and calling for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
The protesters came from an organized event at CCB Plaza about half a mile away. Durham Police Department said officers immediately began working on a response plan when the protesters left CCB Plaza.
Chief Patrice Andrews said her top priority for the entire incident was safety -- the safety of officers, motorists, and protesters.
"The actions of this group were disruptive to our entire community, rush hour commuters, and public safety operations. However, the presence of hundreds of protesters and stranded motorists requires a careful and well-coordinated response to ensure the safety of the public. I am confident our actions prevented unnecessary harm and supported a just and appropriate outcome," she said in a statement released Friday.
About an hour into the protest, officers were able to get protesters to clear one lane of NC-147. That allowed drivers stuck on the road without a way to detour to safely pass while other officers diverted new oncoming traffic off the highway altogether. Once those initial vehicles were allowed to pass, the protesters resumed blocking the entire highway.
At around 7:30 p.m., officers reportedly warned the protesters that they had 15 minutes to leave the highway. Just before 8 p.m., the protesters complied, ending their traffic stoppage nearly three hours after it began.
NCCU law professor Irv Joyner said the potential charges for impeding traffic are misdemeanors, which is why he expected the protestors would likely turn themselves in.
He said if they're first-time offenders, they'll likely face a fine and also that free speech won't help their case since highways aren't considered a public forum.
"So this is not protected by the First Amendment, the First Amendment is not absolute," said Joyner
Triangle Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, organizers of Thursday's protest issued a statement Sunday in response to the warrants:
"The entirety of last Thursday's Jewish-led protest lasted three hours. As people of faith and of conscience, we are measuring that against the three weeks - and counting - of mass atrocities committed by the Israeli military against Palestinians blockaded in Gaza, funded by our U.S. tax dollars. The Israeli government's indiscriminate bombing of hospitals, schools, and refugee camps has resulted in the deaths of nearly 4,000 children so far, and at least 1,000 children are currently trapped under the rubble of their leveled neighborhoods. Doctors, humanitarian aid workers, and the innocent people of Gaza are crying out for an end to the bombings, for humanitarian aid, and for their children to be spared. The U.S. Congress has the power to intervene and save lives by passing a ceasefire resolution. As constituents of Congresswoman Foushee, we will continue to do everything in our power to demand she take this urgent action immediately."
Editor's note: The initial version of this article stated that the suspects had been arrested.