Protesters stop military transport, delay work

Trucks unable to leave as police can't muster manpower

The OlympianNovember 9, 2007 

— Protesters halted shipments of some military equipment from the Port of Olympia to Fort Lewis on Friday, the result of the Olympia Police Department's lack of available manpower to move the 40 or so people who blocked the path of two trucks.

Photos: Military Shipment Protest at the Port of Olympia

Protesters declared victory after port activity ended Friday night with the unsuccessful attempt to drive out two trucks, one carrying a Stryker vehicle and the other carrying two cargo containers.

"We're a little disappointed that we didn't get some police support, but we understand that with the resources they expended the other night, they had problems pulling all the necessary officers together," Port of Olympia Commission President Paul Telford said. "But they did a great job the other night."

He also noted that by the time the protesters stopped the two trucks from leaving about 4 p.m., the day's operations at the port were almost complete anyway.

Two nights earlier, on Wednesday, police clashed with protesters, moving groups and arresting two people who were attempting to block convoys from the port. The protests were organized by Olympia Port Militarization Resistance in opposition to the use of the port for what members say is an illegal, immoral war in Iraq. There were no convoys Thursday.

The problems the protesters are causing at the port "aren't winning them any friends," Telford said Friday. Added port spokeswoman Patti Grant, relaying a comment by port Executive Director Ed Galligan, "it's unfortunate that the protests can't be peaceful and nonobstructionist."

For most of the day Friday, trucks were able to leave unimpeded. Friday's standoff started after 3 p.m.

Olympia Police Commander Tor Bjornstad acknowledged the department's difficulty in pulling together the resources needed to remove protesters who stood or sat in the path of the trucks.

"We understand that the port and the military are disappointed about this evening," he said.

Bjornstad added that police didn't anticipate protesters blocking trucks Friday afternoon. Police also didn't anticipate that small children would be among them, he said.

Two grade-school-age boys and a toddler were among the people in the path of the trucks Friday, a development that Bjornstad said was "quite disturbing" and "quite appalling, in my opinion." Police want to ensure the safety of the protesters, should they have to be removed, and police were not prepared for safely removing children Friday, he said.

"We're going to have to figure out how to address that issue," Bjornstad said.

Protester Anna-Marie Murano said she does not think the presence of the children posed any problems.

"I grew up in a family where I went with my mother to demonstrate against the use of nuclear weapons," she said. "War is what kills children, not bringing them to anti-war demonstrations."

During Friday's standoff, protesters sat and stood in the road near the gates of the port and blocked the path of the trucks, causing one driver towing a Stryker to honk his horn. Protesters said the truck bumped them, though no one was hurt.

One protester with a megaphone shouted to the truck driver towing the Stryker to halt, warning him that he could be subject to prosecution for vehicular assault.

The second truck driver who was blocked, Darin Davenport of Tacoma, said he was angry that the protesters were keeping him from doing his job and returning to his wife and children.

"I have kids, too; I need to get home," he said. "My father was military, so I support the military. It doesn't look like I'm going anywhere. I'm not going to run anybody over, but I'd like to get home."

After 4 p.m., Olympia Police Lt. Ray Holmes told The Olympian that the police department didn't have the manpower to keep the streets clear of protesters so the trucks could leave. By the time extra officers could arrive, it would be after the port was scheduled to stop moving equipment, he said.

He added that he'd "prefer to have a resolution to the whole thing" and that protesters might encounter a different police response during future incidents.

"Tonight, we're done," he said. "On any other night, it may be a different type of outcome."

Angry dockworkers stood behind the stopped trucks Friday afternoon, though none would comment. Telford, who said he spoke with Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch about the standoff Friday night, said he does not think the protesters have broad support.

"They've disrupted things, that's for sure," he said. "... I don't think your average peace advocates in the community really support some of the tactics that are being used here. It's not doing them any favors."

Of the protesters, Telford said, "They can think of it as a victory if they want, but it's no big deal."

Telford was at the port's gates Friday night. He said someone called him about the issue of the police response.

"We fully expect the police support when we gear up again to move equipment out," he said.

Protester Peter Cooper said that before the blockade of the two trucks Friday afternoon, he counted at least five Strykers, as well as trucks carrying cargo containers, that left the port between 5:30 a.m. and noon.

"I think there will be more tests ahead of us," he said. "I don't think they're done, but I think we can count this as a small victory."

Protesters said they planned to stay at the port all night Friday in case any military cargo moved after all. The cargo was unloaded earlier this week from the USNS Brittin, which landed at the port Monday with equipment that was used in Iraq by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team). The ship left Thursday.

Murano said she hopes Friday's events inspire more who oppose the Iraq War to join in.

"We've taken back our ports. ... I think people are united, excited about our victory, and Olympia's in it for the long haul," she said.

Fort Lewis spokesman Jim Symmonds had no comment Friday night.

Jeremy Pawloski covers public safety for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5465 or jpawloski@theolympian.com.

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