Day 11: About 400 anti-war protesters made a final march through the streets of Olympia to a waterfront plaza where they held a rally to celebrate what they had done.
From Nov. 7 to Nov. 17, they had created a series of Dumpster and human blockades, weathered police batons and gallons of pepper spray, and turned the 3rd Stryker Brigade’s two-day offload from Iraq into a weeklong ordeal that put the Port of Olympia — and local resistance to the war — on national television.
One of the marchers said her sister was pepper-sprayed in the face, then put in a van and refused medical aid for 25 minutes. Another said an officer dragged her on the ground by her hair before macing her. Others described being beaten or slammed to the ground — while doing as police asked.
Many of the incidents were recorded and put on the Internet — video that a lawyer says is about to come back to haunt the Olympia Police Department as he prepares the first two of what could be many lawsuits.
“Lawsuits will be forthcoming,” says Legrand Jones, an attorney with the Evergreen Law Group in Olympia. “There is potential for a class-action suit, although we don’t know how firm that is.”
“The smoke is still settling,” he says, but “from what I could see [in the videos], there was no justification for that level of violence at all.”
Jones’ clients are Larry Mosqueda, an Evergreen State College professor who was doused in pepper spray while trying to help a young woman who Mosqueda says had been beaten by police. Another is Wes Hamilton, a Vietnam combat veteran and member of Veterans for Peace.
On Nov. 10, says Hamilton, 60, a group of young people was sitting down, arms linked, at a temporary fence in front of the gates to the port when he saw police officers walk back and forth, spraying layer after layer of pepper spray on the demonstrators.
“The police, as they grabbed people, would lift up their protective goggles and spray directly into their eyes with high-pressure pepper spray,” Hamilton says. “The intention was to totally disable people so they wouldn’t resist, but it was a nonviolent demonstration.”
The next day — Veterans Day — Hamilton says he was on the sidewalk in a police-designated area when two officers starting clubbing him. A third then shot him with five to six rounds of “pepper bullets” — marble-size balls of pepper spray that explode like paintballs.
Hamilton was arrested two days later, on Nov. 13, while manning a defensive line for a group of 39 women who staged a sit-in at the port gates. “We had no problem with being arrested in relation to those acts,” he says. “That was what we expected. We didn’t expect to be brutalized.”
Another veteran, Jeff Brigham of Tumwater, calls that nonsense. Brigham was one of 15 counterprotesters who turned up for the final rally and march organized Nov. 17 by Olympia’s Port Militarization Resistance. He carried a sign that read: “Olympia Police Officers, Job Well Done, Thank You.”
“Before the use of any force at all, they would repeatedly warn people that force would be used to remove them from the road,” Brigham says. “They took a lot of crap and they had discipline and self-control and did their job well.”
Olympia City Councilmember T.J. Johnson says he’s heard similar statements supporting the police — mostly from people who weren’t there and read what he calls The Olympian’s “dreadfully distorted coverage.” The testimony he took from about 80 protesters and bystanders at a City Hall meeting he called Nov. 11 was quite different.
“It happened. I was there,” Johnson says. “People who had complied with police instructions, were not blocking any roadways, and were standing in public spaces where they were directed to stand were pepper-sprayed, including myself.”
“I want to know who’s accountable for all of this,” he says. “I’ve been asking and asking: Who gave the order? Who developed the strategy? Did the officers on the ground follow the strategy that had been developed? But I don’t have answers to any of those questions.”
Through his lawsuit, Hamilton may eventually get some answers. But, to make the point that the war in Iraq is illegal and immoral, he says he would have done it all again.
“Taking a few pepper balls in the groin and being bludgeoned are literally minor,” he says, “in comparison to what people in Iraq are suffering every single day.”