'Don’t make police scapegoat': Chief blasts Port of Olympia who kicked out DAPL-related protesters

'Don’t make police scapegoat': Chief blasts Port of Olympia who kicked out DAPL-related protesters
The Olympia police chief delivered a strong rebuke to Port operators during a city council hearing following a week-long protest over shipments of fracking materials destined for North Dakota.

Police Chief Ronnie Roberts accused the Port of Olympia of undermining the public’s trust in law enforcement.

“I don’t want my department to be the scapegoat for the decisions the port is making,” Roberts told Olympia City Council on Tuesday, urging the port to find alternatives to accepting fracking-related cargo, according to The Olympian. 

“They have choices and options should they choose to use them to eliminate proppants coming to the port. Continued shipments will only erode more trust and put more people and businesses in our community at risk.”

Roberts who became police chief in 2010 said he had spent five years empowering his department “to build trust and build relationships with our community. I don’t want to lose those efforts. It angers me to have to put our officers in combat gear and face off with members in our community over something I don’t believe in myself.”

Longshore men pushed back against Roberts’ comments arguing that many people depended on shipments at the port for their livelihoods. They urged the council to establish a protocol to prevent future protests from getting out of hand and blocking the railroad tracks. They said the shipments weren’t just fracking materials but for other industries.

“We don’t choose the cargo,” Keith Bausch, former president of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 47 told The Olympian. “If we stay silent, it doesn’t do us any good.”

About 20 people from the group Olympia Stand set up an encampment on railways tracks made of cement blocks on November 11 in an effort to block trains from the Port delivering fracking materials destined for the oil fields in North Dakota.

The protest was carried out in solidarity with water protectors’ protests in North Dakota over the $3.8 billion pipeline which if completed on its current route potentially threatens drinking water supplies. The pipeline route is thought to drive right through sacred sites belonging to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Earlier last week Union Pacific Railroad officials tried to negotiate with the group to leave its camp but were unsuccessful. 

Last Friday railroad police backed by local police armed in riot gear tried to negotiate with the people again before police set off pepper balls and flash grenades to break up the camp.

Kiro News reported Olympia police said people had lit fires in the street, dumped trash and tried to block street traffic in the downtown area. Police arrested 12 people on misdemeanor charges.

During the city council hearing, Olympia resident Chris Van Dalen said protesters were unfairly met with a “militarized police force” while peacefully expressing “their First Amendment protected rights.”

“What happened Friday morning made everyone unsafe,” Van Dalen told the council on Tuesday. “There is going to be of this with the changes in the political climate.”

In a related story, Olympia City Council took its own stand against fracking materials in 2014 when it passed a resolution stating its opposition to “oil train traffic” and asking Port of Olympia “to reconsider its role in the import and transport of materials, which are used for hydraulic fracturing,” which only increase the burning of fossil-based carbon fuels and “the worsening of the climate crisis.”