Police Use Excessive Force in Opening up OLY Port
This morning, the Olympia police force showed up in riot gear, clearly ready to use force to disperse the anti-war protestors who had blockaded the 2 entrances to the Port. As the sun began to rise after a rainy night, the truckers, Port workers and soldiers began to arrive. The truckers parked in the nearby parking lot but the Port workers. Several protesters directed the Port workers and soldiers to a side entrance so they could get to work. The anti-war protestors stated they it was not their intention to stop people from going to work at the Port.
The truckers continued to arrive and parked in the parking lot just outside the Port. At just before 8 a.m. all the truckers left the parking. The Olympia Police soon arrived in cars with their tear gas and rifles—but no van. They clearly had no intention of arresting the peaceful protestors.
The anti-war protestors were engaged in civil disobedience and fully expected to be arrested. And that could have been handled peacefully without the use of excessive force.
However, the police had pepper spray and they used it—spraying people directly in the face. It is important to note that the protestors were sitting in front of the barricade. They were not engaging in any action against the police nor were they resisting.
One police officer in particular who did not have a badge number on his helmet began pepper spraying. The sitting demonstrators were roughly picked up, some were dragged, some may have been pummeled—and a few of the police took special delight in throwing them into the gravel parking lot. They got extra points if they threw someone in a mud puddle.
The police then threatened the witnesses standing in the parking lot. I should note that people were pushed off the sidewalk into the street and then pushed them off the street into the parking lot. The police then held the street and stopped all traffic. At some point, the police decided to start spraying pepper spread into the crowd of witnesses in the parking lot—who clearly were not violating any law or causing any trouble. Among the many people hit with the spray was the Olympian photographer.
Several people were severely injured by the pepper spray and the police did call the medics, who stationed themselves at the far corner of the parking lot. However, when I walked up to see what was happening, I saw all the medics and firefighters standing around enjoying the sun while fellow activists treated two young women. Oh—the firefighter did have some bottled water the activists could use to help wash out eyes. One women in particular seemed in acute pain, saying her face was burning up and she was shivering as if going into shock. One of the activists found a safely blanket to help keep her warm. The medics offered no blankets nor did they try to offer to make her more comfortable. When I asked the Fire Chief why they were not doing anything, he said, "it is better if their friends calm them down." Calming down was not the problem. I then asked if they were concerned that she might go into shock, he said that she wasn't exhibiting the signs of someone going into shock. What were they, I asked. She was too animated, screaming in pain, he said to be going into shock. She was shivering from head to toe.
At one point, as the trucks began to drive into the Port, someone came running up the block to ask if the medics could attend someone who had his foot run over. The Chief said, no, that person should come here. This made little sense, so someone else asked why he would not go to help. The Chief said that this was a dangerous situation and he would not risk his people. But these are peaceful demonstrators, said the man. You can't know that, said the Chief. Another on-looker responded, yes, I suppose they might get pepper-sprayed in the face.
Finally, the Chief got uncomfortable and asked if the young woman wanted to go to the hospital. She wanted to go home and some of the activists said they would take her home. So, the Firefighters and the Ambulance left.
The barricades were quickly disassembled and the truckers, who had moved a few blocks away just before the police arrived, drove quickly into the port. A little after 10, some truckers had loaded their cargo and drove away.
Curiously, the police kept anyone who looked like an anti-war activist off the sidewalk near the Port (and not all of them were) but seemed perfectly OK to let a few pro-war folks stay unmolested on the sidewalk. WTF? Why do the police have two standards for who can remain on a public sidewalk?
I have worked in government for several decades and have taught in public administration schools around the country. I have always believed that serving the public was a noble calling. This is the first time I have been witness to police violence against a peaceful group of demonstrators. I am ashamed of these public servants whose job it is to protect and serve, but who chose instead to act on emotion and prejudice.
This situation could have been easily handled. For one thing, the police could have just decided to wait out the demonstrators. What if people gave a demonstration and the police didn't come? No action is an action. They could have just waited it out. It would have been a brilliant strategy that would cost the taxpayers nothing.
Alternatively, they could have negotiated the arrests—like they did in Tacoma and like they have done in DC at any number of protests. The DC police chief clearly understood that the job of the police was to protect the first amendment rights of the demonstrators as well as the rights of those that are the focus of the demonstrations. He knew that he was dealing with "kids with a cause" and did not overreact. Maybe the OLYMPIA police chief should get some training from the DC police chief.
The Olympia police chose violence. Why? I always like to attribute a lot of things to incompetence but I am not so sure that is the case here.
Here are more pictures. The batteries in my camera gave out when the police were manhandling the peaceful group engaging in civil disobedience—so hopefully, others have better documentation of what happened.
I am very proud of the young people willing to put themselves in harms way because they believe in democracy and because they oppose this illegal and immoral war.
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