More than 40 people were arrested as anti-war protesters tried to block shipments of military gear for an Army Stryker brigade that returned...
OLYMPIA — More than 40 people were arrested as anti-war protesters tried to block shipments of military gear for an Army Stryker brigade that returned recently to nearby Fort Lewis from Iraq, police said.
Police wearing riot gear fired pepper spray projectiles into a crowd of more than 150 protesters Tuesday night at the Port of Olympia, and several military convoys eventually moved out.
Olympia police spokesman Dick Machlan said 43 people were arrested and then released while prosecutors decide whether to charge them.
A window in a police cruiser was broken by several rocks and another rock hit an officer in the knee, police Lt. James Costa said.
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Demonstrators also poured cement over railroad tracks at the port but were unsuccessful in halting trains. Port personnel removed the cement and no arrests were made for that part of the protest, which was coordinated by Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, Costa said.
Also present were 30 to 40 counter-demonstrators who said the protesters were a disgrace and that the returning troops should be welcomed home without being denied their equipment.
Andrew Yankey, a spokesman for the protest group, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the demonstrators weren’t protesting the soldiers, just the equipment that he said is likely being sent back for repair before being shipped out again.
“The soldiers have made it home, and we’re really glad about that,” he said. “This is about the military equipment. As long as the government refuses to listen to the will of the vast majority of people who want an end to this war, it’s not safe to allow the military to have its hands on this equipment because it will continue to support the war in Iraq.”
“We refuse to allow our ports to enable this illegal, immoral war,” he said.
Initially, protesters seeking to block the truck convoys gathered at the main gate to the port, but the Army moved several convoys through another gate, the exit onto Marine Drive. The arrests began about 10 p.m. Tuesday night as protesters ran to try to block traffic through the side gate.
Costa said the crowd was warned five times that pepper gas would be used before the first release of the acrid fumes.
Convoys continued to roll after midnight, and about 30 protesters and six counter-demonstrators remained at the port entrance at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday.
“We’re going to keep moving equipment as long as we can,” Costa said.
Toward midnight there were reports of unrest in the downtown area, where windows at U.S. Bank branch were shattered.
Protests began last week after the USNS Brittin arrived with equipment used in Iraq by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade) from Fort Lewis.
Earlier Tuesday, several people attending a City Council meeting accused police of overreacting with the use of pepper spray and batons to move protesters out of the way of the convoys in earlier protests. Others criticized the demonstrators’ tactics.
Ken Schwilk of Olympia said police removed protesters goggles and sprayed them in the eyes.
“These are nonviolent people. They are not attackers,” Schwilk said.
Anna-Marie Murano, a member of the coordination group, said she has had leg and neck pain since police hit her in the chest last week.
By contrast, Jill Wolf, who said she strongly opposes the war in Iraq, took issue with the protesters’ tactics and described them as criminals.
“I would suggest that today’s protesters are making Olympia look ridiculous while wasting thousands of dollars in taxpayers money,” Wolf said.
At a Port Commission meeting Tuesday, protesters asked for an end to military shipments through Olympia but were told by two of the three commissioners that demonstrators had gone too far.
Patti Grant, spokeswoman for the port, said that for security reasons she could not say whether any additional equipment would be unloaded Wednesday. She said that the port has suffered minimal damage, but was disappointed with the behavior of the protesters.
“The port respects the right of people to protest against the war. Lawful, peaceful demonstrations is what our society is all about,” she said. “Unfortunately, the demonstrators here in Olympia have chosen tactics that break the law.”
Protester Sandy Mayes said that the group did not condone the damage that was done downtown, but noted that most of the protesters “have been engaging in peaceful, nonviolent resistance.”
“These brave, brave people keep standing up to block these convoys to make a statement, knowing they will take abuse,” she said.