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Tue December 13, 2011
Around the Nation

Police Use Flash Grenades To Reopen Seattle Terminal

Originally published on Tue December 13, 2011 12:29 pm

Police in Seattle arrested more than a dozen Occupy protesters Monday night after marchers briefly blocked traffic coming into the city's busy port. The Seattle protest was the culmination of a day of coordinated protests at ports up and down the West Coast.

Soon after hundreds of Occupy protesters marched to Seattle's Harbor Island, some of them started dragging wooden pallets and scrap metal into the roadway, and traffic in and out of the port came to a halt. The protesters were trying to shut down Terminal 18.

Occupy protesters gave a variety of reasons for targeting West Coast ports. Some called them a "pressure point" of capitalism — a place where they might inflict a little pain on global corporations. Others said they were trying to help workers at the ports — especially truck drivers who are independent contractors.

Some of the truckers caught in the traffic jam honked their approval — but others, not so much.

"I'm stuck a quarter-mile back here in this mess," says trucker Kenneth Mims, who left his truck to come see the Occupy barricade for himself.

"I get the idea, great idea, but your execution sucks — all you've done is nothing but irritate guys like me," Mims adds.

But down the coast in California, at the Port of Long Beach, some had a more appreciative take.

"I believe in what they are talking about," says Seth Williams, a carpenter. "Equal rights for everybody to be able to work, not just everybody else get rich, and everybody else get poor."

Unionized workers like Williams have been generally sympathetic to the protests on a personal basis, but union leadership has kept its distance.

"Everyone's in a bit of a funny situation," says Craig Merrilees, spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

"Both the protesters and most of the ILWU members see eye to eye on the problem of the 99 percent," Merrilees adds. "They agree that growing inequality is intolerable and destructive of our country."

But since the rank and file never voted to support this particular protest, he says, neither can the union leadership. And ultimately, that limited what Occupy could achieve.

With considerable effort, the protesters briefly blocked or slowed business at the ports of Oakland, Portland and Seattle. But shutting the ports down altogether would have required the aid of the unions on the inside.

At the port of Seattle, Occupy protesters got the media attention they were looking for. As cameras rolled, Seattle police moved in on the barricade.

Some police were on horses; others lifted up their bikes, using them as a kind of people-plow to push protesters out of the street. Pepper-spray-laced flash grenades finished the job. And in less than 10 minutes, the trucks were once again rolling into Terminal 18.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Police in Seattle arrested a few Occupy protesters last night after marchers briefly blocked traffic coming into the city's busy port. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the Seattle incident was a culmination of a day of coordinated demonstrations at ports up and down the West Coast.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Soon after protesters arrived on Seattle's Harbor Island, some of them started dragging wooden pallets and scrap metal into the roadway. Traffic in and out of the port came to a halt.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right now.

GROUP: Right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We are shutting down.

GROUP: We are shutting down.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Terminal 18.

GROUP: Terminal 18.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

KASTE: Some Occupy protesters called the ports a pressure point of capitalism - a convenient place to inflict a little pain on globalized corporations. Others say they're targeting the ports to help the workers there, especially independent truck drivers.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

KASTE: And indeed, some of the truckers caught in the traffic jam honked their approval. But others, not so much.

KENNETH MIMS: I'm stuck a quarter mile back here in this mess.

KASTE: Trucker Kenneth Mims left his truck to come see the Occupy barricade for himself.

MIMS: I mean, I get the idea, great idea, but your execution sucks. Alls you've done is nothing but irritate guys like me.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN HONKING)

KASTE: But others offered a more appreciative take on the protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KASTE: Down the coast at the Port of Long Beach near L.A., a carpenter named Seth Williams was surprised by the Occupy protest there, but he liked what he saw.

SETH WILLIAMS: I believe in what they're talking about. Equal rights for everybody to be able to work, not just everybody else get rich and everybody else get poor.

KASTE: Many unionized workers at West Coast ports have been sympathetic. But union leadership has kept its distance.

CRAIG MERRILEES: Everyone's in a bit of a funny situation,

KASTE: Craig Merrilees is the spokesman for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

MERRILEES: Both the protesters and most of the ILWU members see eye to eye on the problem of the 99 percent. They agree that growing inequality is intolerable and destructive of our country.

KASTE: But without a formal vote of support by the rank and file, he says, the union can't support Occupy's actions. And that limited what protesters could achieve yesterday. It was all they could do to briefly blocked and slow down business at the ports of Oakland, Portland and Seattle. But shutting the ports down completely is practically impossible without the help of the unions who work inside.

GROUP: (Chanting) Shut down the West Coast. Hit them where it hurts the most, shut down the West Coast.

KASTE: In Seattle, protester David Graunke said closing the port wasn't really the goal anyway.

DAVID GRAUNKE: I'm here tonight because I hoping that it'll be in the paper tomorrow morning, because I'm hoping that eventually the idea that started this will become part of the political discourse and become unavoidable.

KASTE: So media attention.

GRAUNKE: Media attention, exactly.

KASTE: And on that score, the Occupy protestors certainly succeeded, last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

KASTE: As cameras rolled, Seattle police moved in on the barricade. Some police were on horses; others lifted up their bikes, using them as a kind of people-plow to push protesters out of the street. Pepper-spray-laced FLASH grenades finished the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

KASTE: And in less than 10 minutes, the trucks were once again rolling into Terminal 18.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.