Two arrested in protest scuffles; convoys roll on

The OlympianNovember 8, 2007 

— UPDATE: Olympia police are hoping for a more subdued evening after two people were arrested in Wednesday night's protests against cargo movement from the Port of Olympia.

PHOTOS: Military Shipment Protest at the Port of Olympia

Jonathan Steiner, 20, was arrested for pedestrian interference and obstruction, Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said.

Shyam Khanna, 19, was later arrested, also for pedestrian interference and resisting arrest.

Khanna was among a group of people reportedly at police headquarters near 8th Avenue and Plum Street to check on Steiner when a convoy came by and he broke away from the group to stand in front of the Stryker vehicle.

The vehicle swerved and narrowly missed hitting him, Bjornstad said.

Both were later released on their own recognizance.

"Hopefully, there will be a lull tonight," Bjornstad said. "Everyone's made their point, and we're hoping that things can progress peacefully and respectfully from now on."

*****

FROM EARLIER: One person was arrested Wednesday and another had a split lip after police used force to clear the roadway when protesters attempted to prevent combat vehicles from leaving the Port of Olympia about 11:15 p.m.

Protesters became more emboldened as the night progressed, chasing down the moving convoys so they could stand or sit in front of them. Police officers were able to clear the roadways and forced the protesters back to the sidewalks by striking them with their batons and dragging them from the road. At one point, the protesters dumped garbage on Capitol Way near Thurston Avenue in an unsuccessful bid to stop the convoys.

"We do everything at the lowest level possible," Olympia police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said. "We've had officers spit on tonight. I'm very impressed by the restraint used by the officers tonight. They've had to put up with an awful lot."

But protesters said Olympia police used excessive force. Police officers appeared in full riot gear at the entrance to the Port of Olympia after the protesters entered the street en masse during the 11:15 p.m. attempt to stop one of the convoys.

Jake Waluconis said he was choked with his own bandanna and was punched in the gut with a baton as he attempted to stop a convoy. A protester who identified himself as Emiliano Guevara had a bloody lip.

"The cops were beating people up for no reason," he said.

Allie Van Nostran, 18, an Evergreen State College freshman, said after an earlier confrontation, "People were shoved back to the sidewalk. I was shoved across my collarbone with a billy club."

The demonstrations were calm earlier in the evening. More than 100 protesters chanted anti-war slogans, and there were sometimes-heated exchanges between them and a few of the two dozen people who said they turned out to support the military.

"We all want it to be peaceful," said Teresa LaBouff, an Olympia resident whose brother was killed in Iraq in January 2006. "It's a celebration. It's a homecoming. That's what it's all about."

"This is not a homecoming as long as the war is going on. ... It's our duty and responsibility to resist while the war is ongoing," countered Andrew Yankey, a member of Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, which organized the protests.

OlyPMR learned late last week that the Port of Olympia would be used to unload the equipment belonging to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, whose roughly 3,600 soldiers returned home last month from a 15-month deployment to Iraq. The USNS Brittin docked at the port Monday.

The group has strongly opposed the use of a publicly funded port to contribute to what it deems an illegal and immoral war and has lobbied for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. With the equipment being hauled home, however, the group has taken a stance to resist the "revolving door" that it says will see the equipment repaired and readied for another possible deployment to Iraq.

The two sides kept to their respective corners of the intersection, with some people crossing the street to make their presence known to the other side.

Mostly, however, the exchanges occurred from the sidewalks on either side of the street, with Olympia police officers guarding the roadway into the port.

"Bring them home. We love our troops," one protester shouted at one point.

"They don't love you," came the reply.

Throughout the evening, busloads of soldiers would arrive at the port to prepare and drive the equipment back to the Army post. The protestors would flash peace signs and chant. Their counterparts would wave U.S. flags and cheer. The buses would pass through the port gate and into darkness, the passengers girding for a long night of work.

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or chill@theolympian.com.

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