Nearly six years after the actions that inspired it, a lawsuit filed by six activists arrested during a series of Port of Tacoma demonstration in March 2007 protesting the shipment of Stryker vehicles to the Iraq War will reach the courtroom Monday.
With the ACLU of Washington providing legal counsel, the lawsuit - McCarthy v. Barrett - argues that the City of Tacoma and specific members of its police force violated protestors' rights to free speech and assembly by unlawfully arresting protestors, instituting restrictions on bags in "designated protest zones," using excessive force , video recording protesters' faces, and running checks on license plate numbers - all in a concerted effort to dissuade protestors from raising hell.
According to the ACLU of Washington, the suit "seeks a determination that the policy prohibiting backpacks in 'protest zones' was unlawful, as well as damages for the violation of plaintiffs' rights."
"The right to protest peacefully is a time-honored right in our democratic society. Tacoma police sought to stop peaceful demonstrations at the Port and interfered with people's rights to dissent from the actions of government," said Sarah Dunne, ACLU of Washington Legal Director, in a statement distributed to the media Sunday.
Here's how the ACLU of Washington describes the lawsuit and the March, 2007 protests that inspired it:
The lawsuit arose out of the police response to demonstrations held in March 2007 at the Port of Tacoma protesting the use of the civilian port to ship military equipment for U.S. war efforts in Iraq. The plaintiffs say that the Tacoma Police Department actions were intended to dissuade protesters from engaging in lawful demonstrations through a number of increasingly restrictive measures and tactics.
Police instituted a blanket "No Bag" policy prohibiting anyone from carrying backpacks or large bags into "designated protest zones." Plaintiffs believe the policy was meant to discourage protesters from exercising their free speech rights. The location of the protests was an industrial area, far removed from stores that could provide protesters with supplies such as food and water needed during the hours-long protests.
This being a legal dispute, the defendants in the case - 17 specific members of the Tacoma police department, including Chief Don Ramsdell - disagree. In court documents filed in the case - of which there are plenty - the defendants paint a far different picture of the protests than the one described by the plaintiffs. The City argues that the restriction on bags was instituted as a safety measure for all involved, and no civil rights were violated in the process.
In their initial response to the lawsuit, defendants argue:
... these defendants deny that there was a strategy to coerce participants into abandoning the demonstrations, and deny that the Tacoma Police Department made it virtually impossible to bring food, water, or medical supplies into the area.
So who's on the higher moral ground? That will now be up to a jury to decide. According to the ACLU of Washington, the case is expected to last at least two weeks.
Find videos of the March 2007 Port of Tacoma protests on the following page ...
Thanks to the magic of the Internet, YouTube is littered with videos depicting the March 2007 Port of Tacoma protests. Here's a sampling:
Find court documents filed in the case on the following page ...