Convoys exit port amid violent confrontation

Pepper spray used to disperse crowds

The OlympianNovember 14, 2007 

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Budget restricts police response

    Olympia Assistant City Manager Subir Mukerjee said at Tuesday's Olympia City Council meeting that the port did not notify Olympia police that assistance was needed Tuesday morning.

    But Mayor Foutch said the lack of police response probably was because officers have been working overtime through the weekend, and no one was available.

    "We don't have enough people to have a mass operation every day for a week," he said.

    Olympia councilman Joe Hyer added that the lack of response Tuesday and last week illustrates the city's budget constraints and inability to adequately fund police services.

    "If we're expecting to have a certain level of services, we've got to have the tools in place" to pay for those services, he said.

— Demonstrators gathered at the Port of Olympia’s main gate Tuesday night to block military shipments from the port to Fort Lewis, but the Army outflanked them and moved several convoys out another gate.

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Olympia police in riot gear wore gas masks as they prepared to remove protesters from the main entrance about 11 p.m. At the same time, military convoys left for Fort Lewis from the port exit to Marine Drive.

Protesters ran to the Marine Drive location and attempted to block the convoy, and police responded to protesters blocking Stryker vehicles by shooting pepper-spray bullets and pepper spray into the crowd. About 50 people were arrested Tuesday night, police said. A witness said police also threw two concussion grenades into the crowd.

Convoys continued after midnight, and Olympia Police Lt. Jim Costa said, “We’re going to keep moving equipment as long as we can.”

People arrested were held in an Intercity Transit bus that was guarded by police, Costa said. They were to be held throughout the night so they couldn’t rejoin the protests, he said.

About 30 protesters and six counterdemonstrators remained at the port entrance at 1:15 a.m.

Costa said one police car had its windows broken out by a thrown rock, and an officer was hit in the knee.

The buildup to the confrontation started about 9 p.m., as police lined up to face a group of about 30 female protesters sitting across the road. Behind them stood the rest of the estimated 150 protesters at the port entrance.

Police gave five warnings that they would use force and pepper spray on the protesters, then began arresting the women in the road about 10 p.m. After that, police fanned out toward the protesters, waiting in a line for about an hour before putting on gas masks in anticipation of making more arrests.

After the convoys left, the unrest moved downtown about midnight. Windows at U.S. Bank on Capitol Way were broken out, and Olympia police officer Chuck Gassett said his car was hit by a rock and dented.

The protests started Nov. 5, after the USNS Brittin docked at the Port of Olympia and began unloading equipment used by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) during its 15 months in Iraq.

On Tuesday, it was clear that Fort Lewis was preparing to haul a large amount of equipment from the port. Four or five busloads of military personnel arrived at the port Tuesday night to drive the military vehicles out.

Protesters were met Tuesday night by 30 to 40 counterdemonstrators who said the protesters were a disgrace to the troops, who should be welcomed home, not denied their equipment.

“The Stryker brigade is coming home,” Vietnam veteran Gary Heathan said. “I want to show my support and say ‘Thank you very much.’ I don’t want what happened to me when I came back to happen to them.”

This is the version of the story that published in the Wednesday November 14th edition of The Olympian. A different version with some information that didn't make the print deadline is available here.

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