Thursday, June 01, 2006

Anti-War Protesters Tear-Gassed in Washington State

Anti-war protesters gathered Wednesday at the Port of Olympia to demonstrate against a 950-foot military cargo ship bound for Iraq:
Crowds were small early in the day, but were expected to grow amid rumors that the ship was leaving Wednesday evening. Twenty-two people were arrested Tuesday and police pepper-sprayed a handful of protesters who pulled down a port fence.

Activists began protesting at the port more than a week ago after learning that Stryker vehicles and other Army gear from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, a 4,000-soldier unit stationed at Fort Lewis, were being shipped to Iraq.

The USNS Pomeroy, the largest ship ever to dock in Olympia, arrived Monday night.

Dan Kimball, Thurston County sheriff's chief criminal deputy, said no one was seriously injured in the demonstration Tuesday night. Twenty people were arrested for trespassing after they tore down a gate at the port entrance and laid down; two others were arrested for failing to disperse and grabbing officers.

Olympia City Councilman TJ Johnson said Wednesday he was shoved by state troopers trying to clear the area the night before. He said people were dispersing, but that pepper spray was shot off anyway.

He said county sheriff's deputies "chose to escalate the situation."

Authorities used pepper spray several times, including once when some in the crowd started hurling bottles and rocks at the approximately 70 law enforcement officers on scene, Kimball said.

"The actions that we took were very limited in force," Kimball said. "If they didn't start throwing things, we would have stood there until they went home."

Those arrested were released Tuesday night, but will have to go to court and will likely face fines, Kimball said.

In addition to the Washington State Patrol and Thurston County officers, Olympia police and Tumwater police were on hand Tuesday night. Several Olympia officers watched over the small group Wednesday afternoon, where handmade signs reading "U.S. out of Iraq," "Stop the Killing" and "No War" were stacked around a plaza just outside the port, in view of the ship.

"The majority of Americans know the war is wrong," said protester Drew Hendricks. "They're waiting for someone to act, and we're acting."

Later Wednesday, port officials cleared the signs out of the plaza and pressure-washed chalk messages that were written by the protesters, who moved outside of yellow tape that was set up outside the plaza.

No one was arrested Monday night, but police in riot gear fired pepper spray as about 150 war protesters tried to enter a port area.

Sixteen people were arrested in three days last week, mostly for pedestrian interference, during protests against convoys through the downtown area to the port from the sprawling military post between Olympia and Tacoma.

I laud them for their passion, but can't help but wonder why they haven't hooked up with a better organized protest movement.

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