Tempers cool at site of Olympia war protest

Turmoil eases at port; protesters at forum criticize police actions

The OlympianNovember 12, 2007 

  • A week of unrest

    Monday


    The USNS Brittin lands at the Port of Olympia to unload equipment that was used in Iraq by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team).

    Tuesday

    About 150 protesters carry signs and chant as they march from Percival Landing through downtown, backing up traffic on Fourth Avenue as they make their way to the fenced-off area where the USNS Brittin is docked. There is little interaction between protesters and police.

    Wednesday

    Two people are arrested Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. Protests start out calm but escalate as the evening progresses and protesters chase or jump in front of combat vehicles leaving the port. Police use batons and drag protesters out of the road.

    Thursday

    Protesters gather at the port entrance, but no convoys leave the port and there are no confrontations with police. Police report the extra response to the protests cost the city $10,000.

    Friday

    At 4 p.m., about 40 people block the paths of two trucks carrying a Stryker and cargo containers. The Olympia Police Department does not have enough officers to remove the protesters. Protesters remain at the port entrance all night and build a barricade of garbage cans and a truck axle at the Market Street and Marine Drive entrance. Port workers appear to cleared the barricade at about 8:15 a.m. Saturday.

    Saturday

    • 10:20 a.m.:
    Police force a line of protesters to move away from the Market Street port gates. No one is arrested.

    12:15 p.m.: Police arrest at least three people near Plum Street and Fourth Avenue after protesters jump in front of a truck.

    12:30 p.m.: Police arrest nine more people who had linked arms through PVC pipe, partly blockading Plum Street near Union Avenue in an attempt to keep a convoy from getting onto Interstate 5.

    2:30 p.m.: Olympia Port Militarization Resistance members meet to discuss upcoming plans and vow to continue to resist any shipments.
  • Previous protests

    The current protests of shipments at the Port of Olympia are among several at Western Washington ports in the past few years. The others:

    May 2007: Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, the group that has organized Olympia's current protests, also organized several days of protests of a planned military shipment at the Port of Grays Harbor. More than 60 demonstrators marched, and no one was arrested, according to The Daily World newspaper. Some activists at the protest said they thought the military had decided to ship cargo from the Port of Grays Harbor to avoid the greater potential for protests in Olympia and Tacoma. Joe Hitt, a Fort Lewis spokesman, said that had no effect on the decision to use the Grays Harbor port.

    March 2007: Protesters targeted the Port of Tacoma to call attention to the shipment of 1,000 Strykers and other Fort Lewis vehicles from there to Iraq. Thirty-seven people were arrested during the nighttime protests. The biggest clash came March 11, when 23 were arrested while attempting an act of coordinated civil disobedience. Among those arrested was Olympia City Council member T.J. Johnson.

    In July, a Tacoma Municipal Court judge declined to bring charges against 13 of those arrested, including Johnson. He ruled that officers misinterpreted the state law under which the protesters were charged. The city still seeks payment from the military and the Port of Tacoma for the more than $600,000 cost of policing the protests.

    May 2006: Nearly 40 people were arrested during 10 days of protests against a military shipment at the Port of Olympia, most during a protest in which some demonstrators damaged port gates, and authorities fired pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Charges against the demonstrators eventually were dropped.

    The security detail cost the city $9,513 in overtime payments and $4,532 worth of comp time, which is time the officers can take off in return for their extra work. Twenty-nine police officers and four corrections officers spent a total of 213 hours at the event.

OLYMPIA — Iraq War protesers clashed with police early Sunday morning as criticism of police crowd control tactics mounted.

Photos: Military Shipment Protest at the Port of Olympia 2007
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Olympia police arrested three people and sprayed at least two others with pepper spray Sunday morning. Twelve people were arrested Saturday.

Demonstrators who carried "Support the troops" signs gathered across the street from those protesting military-cargo shipments at the Port of Olympia, but the rest of Sunday was relatively quiet, police said.

Sunday night, roughly 100 people attended a standing-room-only forum at Olympia City Hall organized by City Councilman TJ Johnson to discuss whether police have gone too far in their use of batons and pepper spray at the recent protests.

Johnson told those who attended to fill out citizen complaint forms, which were available at the forum, if they wanted to report something they perceived as improper behavior by a city of Olympia employee.

Olympia police Cmdr. Tor Bjornstad said police have not swung their batons at anyone but have used them to push back protesters trying to block roadways. And he said everyone who was sprayed with pepper spray was warned at least four times beforehand. Some who attended Sunday night's forum said they were sprayed without warning.

Police response

But Bjornstad said: "No one got sprayed that didn't know it was coming."

Though he stopped short of accusing police officers of misconduct, Johnson called the situation a "significant crisis" and said he decided to organize the forum because he was concerned by police acts he'd witnessed and heard about.

Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch released a written statement Sunday that said any reports of excessive police force that are filed with the city will be "thoroughly and impartially" investigated. But he said police reported that some demonstrators have acted in ways that exceeded their rights to use public roads for political expression. And he said demonstrators need to "express their opinions in ways that do not block the public rights-of-way for unreasonable periods and to respond promptly to lawful requests and orders of police officers on the scene."

Between 30 and 40 officers worked Sunday as a result of the protests, said Dick Machlan, Olympia police administrative services manager.

Olympia police got additional support from Lacey,

Tumwater and Thurston County law enforcement agencies.

The additional staffing needed for such protests can cost the city of Olympia between $2,000 and $15,000, Machlan said.

"It's so dependent on the individual event," he said.

The latest port protest could end up being on the more expensive end if additional police are needed to work today because it's the observed Veterans Day holiday, Machlan said. That means working staff members earn one-and-a-half times their typical wage.

Sunday's events

The confrontations Sunday began after about 8:45 a.m., when protesters began marching back and forth across Franklin Street at the Market Street intersection. As 18-wheelers towing cargo began rolling down Market Street about five minutes later, two protesters lay down in the road, creating a human blockade. Police officers sprayed both with pepper spray.

Another caravan of vehicles began leaving the port about 9:45 a.m., prompting protesters to run out ahead of the vehicles. Police arrested at least one man who witnesses said was in the road and later arrested two others.

Those arrested on suspicion of violating the city's pedestrian interference ordinance were Joshua Elliott, Montgomery Gondolfi and Luke Noble, according to Olympia City Jail.

"It got a little dicey right off the bat," Bjornstad said. "Once that settled down, it hasn't been that bad the rest of the day."

Protesters' stories

Elliott attended Sunday night's forum and said he was jabbed by the end of policeman's baton, sprayed with pepper spray at close range and tackled to the ground.

"It's disgusting," he said of the way he was treated by police. "Something needs to be done about it."

Larry Mosqueda, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College, said he plans to sue the city because of the way he says he was sprayed with pepper spray. He said he was trying to help a fellow protester get back on her feet when he was sprayed.

Iraq War protesters and military supporters traded barbs with each other throughout Sunday, yelling at each other from the opposite sides of Market Street. The most heated exchanges came when demonstrators from the opposing camps walked onto each other's corners to wave signs or shout from bullhorns.

Iraq War protester Nicole Miller, 25, of Olympia said she decided to walk over to the corner where the military supporters were standing because she thought police were giving them more leeway in their demonstration.

"I was making a point about constitutional rights," said Miller, who stayed at the intersection overnight Saturday.

"When the shipments first arrived, that's when the war came home to my community," she added, explaining her involvement in the protest.

Shipment supporters

Jeff Brigham, 51, of Tumwater, served in the Army for 20 years. He carried a sign that read "God Bless Israeli bulldozers." The sign refers to the death of Olympia resident Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to block the destruction of a Gaza home. Brigham, who told protesters that he disapproved of Corrie defending Palestinians, said he came to the port Sunday to support the military.

"I feel it's important to make the point that the military is welcome in our port," he said.

Brigham said he didn't think police officers had acted inappropriately in the way they handled the protesters.

"They always tell the people to leave the road several times before they use force," he said. "As long as people didn't break the law, no one got any force used on them."

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