a friend moved to the US from China. She had never seen the Tiananmen
Square demonstrations, including that famous scene of the lone
demonstrator standing in front of the Chinese tank. I thought how amazing
that a billion people can be kept ignorant of something so important.
Then, a week after the events described below, I saw an amazing video
about a peaceful demonstration in Tacoma, WA that turned violent when
police opened fire with tear gas and firing rubber bullets at
close range on the demonstrators.
The video, one of many, showed how extreme
the militarism of the United States had become. It has also shown how the
establishment media does not cover all the news; indeed, sometimes the
most important news is not covered at all. As far as I know, the video was
never shown on CNN, MSNBC or any of the major networks -- hundreds of
millions of Americans were kept ignorant of what occurred. Would seeing
the videos of such aggressive police action have enlightened Americans
about the militarization of our country?
In an effort to expand knowledge about this event I interviewed Caitlin
Esworthy, a resident of Olympia, WA, who participated in the
demonstrations. She is a student at The Evergreen State College, a member
of Port Militarization Resistance of Olympia and the Olympia Movement for
Justice and Peace. These are two of the four organizations involved in
this project. The others were Students for a Democratic Society and United
for Peace, Pierce County. Descriptions of the organizations and their
contact information follow after the end of the interview.
Kevin Zeese: What was the purpose of the demonstrations at
the Tacoma port?
Caitlin Esworthy: I think there were a number of goals set out
during the two weeks of protests, some articulated and some unspoken. Most
attainably, we aimed to show our support by voicing our desire to see that
the 4th Stryker Brigade 2nd Division remains home and to demonstrate
non-violently our opposition to the war in Iraq. Ultimately though, we
would like to end the occupation and bring our troops home, and we hope
that our actions contribute to the success of the anti-war movement.
KZ: Describe the protests? What were the protesters doing?
CE: The protest spanned about two weeks and the community activists
as well as the police chose numerous tactics and methods of organizing.
Visibility vigils in the downtown area as well as at the port, marches,
chants, holding signs, assembling nearest we were able to the Stryker
convoys and the ship being loaded to get our message to the troops and
longshore workers that we want the 4th brigade to stay safe at home,
street theater with the Tacoma Puppetistas, etc. We were using nonviolent
direct action and expressing our democratic right to assemble and show
dissent with the government’s policies.
KZ: What was the police reaction?
CE: In sum: force, intimidation and erasure of numerous
constitutionally protected rights. Over the course of the two weeks (from
March 2nd to the 17th) the police chose to daily escalate their tactics in
response to the large groups of people voicing their opposition to the
occupation of Iraq and in favor of keeping the 4th Brigade
home. There were consistent, daily attacks on our civil liberties and
safety as citizens including: harassment, use of nighttime spotlights on
pedestrians and drivers that resulted in disorientation and intimidation,
use of “less-than-lethal” (read: sometimes lethal) weapons on non-violent
protestors, RAMPANT violation of citizen’s right to not be videotaped by
public officials without probable cause, officers refusing to identify
themselves, restriction of the right to wear backpacks on a public street
and the repeated restriction of citizen’s right to assemble within
reasonable proximity to that which they are protesting so that the nature
of their protest is not fundamentally altered (both of which are supported
by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decisions), vehicles being searched
without cause or warrant, the list goes on.
KZ: What kinds of injuries were there? Was any emergency medical
care provided on the scene? How about private medical assistance?
CE: I was the first person the police decided to arrest, and I
sustained scrapes, numerous bruises, and am still dealing with a costly
and painful neck injury. On that same night following my arrest, Wally
Cuddeford was tased three times WHILE he was passively lying on the ground
with a number of police officers restraining him. Shortly after, Jeff
Berryhill was shot with a rubber bullet while lifting a cloth “Courage to
Resist” sign with both hands above his head to render it visible to the
bus of military personnel driving past. During the week pepper spray and
tear gas were deployed numerous times on nonviolent protesters resulting
in varying reactions, those with contacts or asthma having a more painful
and traumatic experience.
The medical care that was provided was primarily by our trained medics who
were present at the protests. I would add that because we were not allowed
to bring backpacks into designated areas (what I call our “free speech
zones”) many of the medics were left without necessary equipment. After
Jeff, Wally, and my arrest, we were given access to police-provided
medical attention. I would also add that I personally did not feel
comfortable getting treatment from the same unit that had just brutalized
me. This would contrast with the Olympia medical attention provided in May
2006 when the fire department and emergency response team established a
fire truck, water, and medical treatment behind protest lines to render
attention more accessible and safe for those not willing to risk arrest
because of an injury.
You can see a
video of medics not being allowed to assist people.
More reports of injury are likely to surface in any further civil suits.
Many have filled out claim of damage forms already.
KZ: How do the police defend their actions? And, what is your
CE: To be honest, I have no idea how they justify much of their
actions; it is beyond my comprehension. I think that in the post-1999
Seattle WTO protest world, police repression is approached with confidence
in a reduced level of accountability as well as media complicity
(evidenced with the Republican National Convention and the Miami FTAA
I think that the Tacoma police, in conjunction with over four other
regional policing forces, approached their being hired by the Port of
Tacoma to ensure the safe shipment of deadly Stryker vehicles and support
vehicles as a way to maintain order. The idea that repressing citizens'
right to assemble, harassing and injuring nonviolent demonstrators, and
illegally videotaping protestors are acceptable tactics to maintain order
and even that they are strategic is beyond me. I don’t think that any
police force should ever be above the law and there is no excuse for these
Additionally, they did not fulfill their duty to communicate properly,
which became particularly consequential when a number of people sitting
peacefully were tear-gassed. They would occasionally send a representative
to dictate with whatever they deemed to be the appropriate spokesperson of
the protestors “the ground rules.” Sergeant Barrett claimed that he wanted
to have a “nice event” yet he was one of the officers in charge the night
Wally was tased.
One of the ways the police defend their actions is by deliberately lying,
particularly to media. One example of this is documented on YouTube,
in which a detective told a local news program that protesters threw
wooden barricades at the police which are what provoked the tear gassing
on Friday the 9th. In an interview caught on independent media, two
activists challenge him to substantiate those claims, which he was not
able to. Another example is the fact that there was a verbal rumor in the
police unit on duty the night after Wally, Jeff, and I were arrested that
we had attacked, charged, grabbed at and threw gravel during our arrests.
If that had actually happened perhaps our third degree assault felony
charges would have some basis. Unfortunately, our charges were dropped
immediately and as of yet no cause report has been filed to explain the
Tacoma police’s arrest and charging of us.
You can see a video of the
police comments to the media and the very clear evidence that
they were lying.
KZ: Were there any prosecutions of demonstrators? What was the
CE: The charging and prosecution of those arrested has been less
than consistent. Peter Ryan was arrested on the 9th with obstruction and
failure to disperse. Of the 23 people arrested on March 11th, I believe 11
are being charged. The eight who chose to risk arrest by wearing backpacks
into the ‘free speech zones’ have been charged with disobeying a flag
officer, which is a traffic violation.
In an interesting addendum, the trial that happened two weeks ago for the
people arrested in Olympia during the May 2006 shipment resulted in an
interesting conclusion. After four chaotic days in the courtroom (which
included the defense catching a police officer lying while on the stand,
the judge declaring a rarely granted recess after the prosecutor had an
emotional breakdown, and the prosecutor tainting the jury by bringing up
incriminating evidence on the defendants that they had decided to not
include during the pretrial and flashing pictures of mug shots to the
jury) the judge declared a mistrial. The circumstances were highly
questionable. Throughout the week it had become clear that the jury
appeared to favor acquitting the defendants. On the afternoon of Thursday,
March 29th three men entered the courtroom and presented to the judge
evidence that confidential jury information had been leaked. The evidence
presented was e-mails sent out on a PRIVATE, moderated list serve
populated only by the defendants and the legal team. It requires a
moderator to sign anyone on, and on this particular list there had been
communication issues because there was such a delay between sending and
posting (because both the e-mails and entrants had to be “okayed” by the
moderator and he wasn’t always around to do so). The conclusion that the
defendants seem to have made is that the list serve was hacked into and
tampered with, allowing for others to join without the knowledge of the
moderator. The right of lawyer/client confidentiality clearly allows
e-mail as a mode of communication.
KZ: What actions are planned for the future?
CE: We are looking at two more Stryker deployments out of Fort
Lewis within 2007. We have been working to solidify organizational
structure and a regional network to facilitate better and more effective
communication as well as create more effective actions.
is executive director of
Democracy Rising and co-founder of
Voters For Peace.
Port Militarization Resistance (PMR): The main group involved in
organizing, two chapters exist, the first one in Olympia and the second in
PMR was formed in Olympia in May 2006 during the two-week protest period
of the deployment of the 5th Stryker Brigade. Formed at an OMJP meeting,
it was a diverse group of people working on a campaign to end the use of
Olympia’s municipal property for the occupation of Iraq. I have attached a
campaign plan drafted in February 2007 by Olympians in preparation for the
deployment of the 4th Brigade 2nd Division, which we believed was going
through the Port of Olympia.
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace (OMJP): A
broad, socio-economic justice group formed during the First Gulf War that
works on issues from health care to homelessness. Serves as a main hub of
peace and justice organizing in Olympia. Many individual members were
involved in the March 2007 port actions but OMJP was not directly
responsible for the organizing. Offers the most complete compendium of
documents, photos, articles, etc., of both the May 2006 and March 2007
Students for a Democratic Society (SDS):
Includes chapters in Olympia and Tacoma. Tacoma SDS, a student group
formed last year was the main group organizing out of Tacoma. Tacoma SDS
was instrumental in securing meeting locations at the University of Puget
Sound, outreach to the community, etc., during the March 2007 port
protests. SDS Olympia and Tacoma are both multi-issue organization but
have focused primarily on anti-war organizing with teach-ins and vigils.
United For Peace Pierce County (UFPPC):
UFPPC is a local chapter of the United for Peace and Justice national
organization. They are involved in various peace activities involving
themselves in numerous campaigns and demonstrations. UFPPC was integral
in producing commentary and independent accounts of what transpired during
the demonstrations. The group accumulated all of this information, as
well as photos, and posted them on their website providing a critical
element in building and communicating the sentiments of the growing
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