"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


April 5, 2007

Tacoma must learn the lesson of Hankin v. City of Seattle:  it is the job of authorities to protect the rights of protesters while upholding the law and keeping the peace—not to try to intimidate citizens intent on exercising their rights.  Let's have no more excessive force turned against peaceful protesters in Tacoma, and no more use of riot control agents like tear gas and rubber bullets in the absence of any riot!

The coincidence was extraordinary, and the timing could scarcely have been better for Americans attached to their constitutional freedoms.

On Monday, April 2, Tacoma's new Citizen Review Board was preparing to meet. Complaints were expected about the "policies, practices, and procedures" of the Tacoma Police Department on view during the recent port militarization resistance protests at the Port of Tacoma. Then came the news: The City of Seattle had agreed to pay $1,000,000 to settle claims stemming from abuse of protester's rights at the 1999 WTO protests. Since Seattle has already paid $800,000 for other such claims, the new settlement brings the total to $1.8 million (Colin McDonald, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Apr. 2, 2007).

Abusing constitutional rights has a cost, and that cost can be financial:  that's the lesson of Hankin v. City of Seattle.

But more than money was involved. Seattle also agreed to seal and expunge the records of the unconstitutional arrests of a group of more than one hundred people arrested in Westlake Park in 1999 while peacefully protesting the World Trade Organization. And most importantly, by agreeing to incorporate key court rulings from the Hankin case into police training, Seattle implicitly recognized that police misconduct was part of the problem. Improved training will help ensure that police officers will protect individuals' constitutional rights in the future.

Lead plaintiff Kenneth Hankin, a Boeing fuel systems engineer who spent three days in jail in 1999, said that the verdict and settlement "not only vindicate the rights of the people who peacefully and lawfully protested in 1999, but will help ensure that future dissent is treated as intended in a free society."

The outcome of Hankin v. City of Seattle is the result of seven years of litigation. In a comment, Erica Kay said: "Seattle, Tacoma, and other cities cannot ignore this settlement or the jury's finding that the city violated our Fourth Amendment rights and arrested us wrongfully. Those cities must re-learn the lessons of the 1999 WTO protests. The correct lesson is that violating instead of protecting the rights of people expressing their views is wrong and it comes at too big a price."

If citizens want to demonstrate their disapproval of the shipment of weapons of war to Iraq, they have every right to do so. It is unquestionably the professional duty of our police to protect that right.

That's a lesson city leaders need to be communicating to Tacoma police officers now, because Tacoma is increasingly likely to be a focus of the growing discontent over the continuing war and occupation. Nearby Fort Lewis is playing a key part in sustaining the war and occupation of Iraq, as Hal Bernton recently pointed out ("Fort Lewis Troops Now Front and Center," Seattle Times, Mar. 19, 2007).

As the legal, moral, and political catastrophe of the Iraq war grows ever clearer to the American people, Americans' determination to bring the war to an end is certain to grow. Impatience is rising, and will rise further, given that President George W. Bush and the Democratic leadership in Congress are defying the will of the American people by continuing to fund war and occupation in Iraq. In the words of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH 10th), a Democratic presidential candidate who visited Tacoma on March 30, they are "subverting the will of the American people."

In these troubled times, the job of the Tacoma police is to keep the peace, not to unleash excessive force on demonstrators in an attempt to discourage citizens from exercising their rights. It is not their job to erode them through measures like the illegitimate ban of backpacks and bags that was evoked several times by police at the Port of Tacoma last month. If the police are to deserve the trust of the people, they must uphold the law of the land and the rights of citizens. It would be a terrible institutional failure were they to be used to assist in the subversion of the will of the majority.

Opposition to the Iraq war and occupation is not going away. As. U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey (ret.) said in a report on Iraq dated Mar. 26, "U.S. domestic support for the war in Iraq has evaporated and will not return. The great majority of the country thinks the war was a mistake." It is entirely appropriate for Americans who oppose the war to manifest their disapproval. Given the illegal, immoral character of the war, many believe they have a civic duty—even a legal duty, under the Nuremberg Principles—to do so. No amount of intimidation is going to quell their spirit. As we saw last month, intimidation and excess force by police only strengthens their determination.

We hope Tacoma learns the lesson of Seattle and revises its policies, practices, and procedures accordingly. Let there be no more excessive force unleashed on peaceful protesters, and no more use of riot control agents like tear gas and rubber bullets in the absence of any riot. Otherwise, there will be a price to be paid.


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."