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Peers debate Johnson's arrest

OLYMPIA - City Councilman TJ Johnson said his oath of office required him to take action to stop the "illegal" war in Iraq.

So Johnson joined 22 people Sunday who voluntarily put themselves into a position to be arrested at the Port of Tacoma to protest a military shipment bound for Iraq.

Johnson said he took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but that the war violates Article Six. "Therefore ... to not act would be to not honor my oath of office," he said.

"We feel as if we have used all possible means available to us" to stop the war. "This is a symbolic action of last resort."

Other council members disagree over whether Johnson's actions were appropriate, and the matter likely will come up during tonight's 7 p.m. City Council meeting.

"I think it's inappropriate for elected officials to get arrested," Councilman Doug Mah said.

Councilwoman Karen Messmer took a different opinion. "When he's on his own time, I don't think it's my position to judge whether what he did was appropriate or not," she said.

Johnson said he and the others arrested were protesting Tacoma police's creation of a no-backpack zone at the port, which Johnson and others say is unconstitutional. Johnson and some of the others attempted to deliver to police a court opinion that they say backs up their claim.

They scaled a police fence that separated the protesters from the convoy of military equipment and were arrested without incident, one by one.

They were released on their recognizance about 3 a.m. Monday after nearly 12 hours in custody.

Johnson and the others will be arraigned at 2 p.m. Thursday in Tacoma Municipal Court. Tacoma police have recommended that the 23 be charged with criminal obstruction, a misdemeanor. But it is unclear whether prosecutors will press charges, said LeGrand Jones, an attorney for Johnson and two other protestors.

Johnson said he was aware his actions could get him arrested. He told a police officer at the scene he and the others intended to hop the police fence, hoping that if police deemed arrests were necessary, the arrests would be peaceful. He wanted to avoid police pulling people off the fence before they had both feet on the ground, he said.

"I was asking him if we could figure out a way to make this safe," Johnson said. "I asked if he would be willing for people to cross the fence one at a time ... I didn't ask him to take action."

Johnson was the 15th person to cross the line.

Future

He said he does not plan to return to the port for the next several days because he has city events to attend, such as tonight's City Council meeting.

Mah said that by getting arrested, Johnson was making it harder for Johnson to do his job.

"In this case, TJ had pretty much let everyone know he was doing this, but nonetheless I think there are different ways for an elected official to issue or tell other elected officials about the concerns she or he may have about policies undertaken by any level of government."

He said the council shouldn't consider any action against Johnson unless he is convicted. But, "I think a conviction would again make it much more difficult to hold public office even for a misdemeanor offense," he added.

Johnson said he is not dissuaded by opposition to his tactics, which were shared by the anti-war group he belongs to, the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance.

"It is our hope that this sparks similar actions in other cities," he said.

Enough is Enough!, an anti-war rally and march scheduled to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will start at 11 a.m. Saturday at People's Park in Tacoma. The march will begin at noon and will proceed indirectly, via the Sixth Avenue business district, to Wright Park where there will be a gathering with music, spoken word, art, information tables, socializing, etc. This event is free and open to the public. Community members are also encouraged to bring signs and banners from their churches, unions and community groups.

People's Park in Tacoma is at Ninth Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Wright Park is at Sixth Avenue at South Yakima Avenue. For more information, call 253-238-2292 or visit www.ufppc.org

Rally

Enough is Enough, an anti-Iraq War rally and march scheduled to mark the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, will start at 11 a.m. Satur day at People's Park in Tacoma. The march will begin at noon and will proceed indirectly, via the Sixth Avenue business district, to Wright Park where there will be a gathering with music, spoken word, art, information tables and socializing. This event is free and open to the public. Community members are also encouraged to bring signs and banners from their churches, unions and community groups.

People's Park in Tacoma is at Ninth Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Wright Park is at Sixth Avenue at South Yakima Avenue. For more information, call 253-238-2292 or go to www.ufppc.org.

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