Protesters jailed following demonstration on Washington Street
There are 25 scheduled stops along U.S. Highway 95 for the Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil megaload shipment, but environmental activists created a noisy, lengthy unscheduled stop in downtown Moscow early Friday morning.
Idaho State Police troopers accompanying the 413,600-pound shipment from the Port of Lewiston were greeted by 50 to 200 protesters at the intersection of Third and Washington streets around 12:30 a.m., several sitting in the road with their signs and refusing to move.
With the assistance of the Moscow Police Department and Latah County Sheriff’s Office, which provided a jail van, six protesters were arrested, according to a probable cause affidavit filed in Latah County 2nd District Court by ISP Sgt. Brad Doty.
Vincent Murray, 61; Brett Haverstick, 38; Mitchell Day, 40; David Willard, 52; Gregory Freistadt, 26; and William French, 55, were all charged with misdemeanor unlawful assembly, disturbing the peace and refusal to disperse.
French was also cited by the Latah County Sheriff’s Office for malicious injury to property for allegedly breaking out the side window of the jail van, said Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson.
Thompson said French’s case will be forwarded to Nez Perce County Prosecutor Dan Spickler because French is his family’s optometrist.
Three of the arrested protesters were able to post bond that night, he said, and will have an initial appearance before Judge John Stegner while the others could not and were later released by Stegner with pretrial conferences scheduled for early September.
Moscow Police Chief David Duke said the first arrest occurred 22 minutes after ISP and the shipment reached the protesters’ blockade, and 20 other protesters were moved away from the intersection without incident.
Moscow officers were aware ahead of time that protesters were planning to block the roadway, Duke said, and had assembled at Fourth and Washington streets in case ISP requested assistance.
Despite his arrest, Haverstick said he was happy with the way the protest played out Friday.
“I’m proud to be a part of what happened last night,” he said. “It was such a big happening that it takes a while to absorb everything that went down.
“What we laid witness to last night was the city of Moscow affirmatively and defiantly saying our community is not for sale, that Exxon/Imperial Oil and their megaload equipment is not welcome in our city.”
Freistadt said communication between himself and other protesters sitting at the intersection with law enforcement was limited, but he was given plenty of opportunity to remove himself from the roadway.
“We were really wondering how long they were going to push it and wait for us to get up and move,” he said. “They did give us some options to disperse.”
Freistadt and Haverstick both said the decision to not move for law enforcement was a demonstration of solidarity in their cause, which is to prevent the shipments from reaching the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Alberta, Canada, which environmental activists say will be a detriment to the global ecosystem.
“I didn’t catch any real aggressiveness,” Freistadt said of law enforcement picking him and the other five protesters up and out of the street as many went slack or held their feet up, forcing officers to carry them. “I was given numerous times when I could have, of my own will, got off the street.”
Protesters and supporters line street
There were people holding signs against the megaload. There were people holding signs against the protesters.
What started off as a small gathering outside the Pie Hole on Second Street at 10 p.m. Thursday grew exponentially by midnight as members of Wild Idaho Rising Tide – the environmental action group that organized the protest – and others who chose commerce over greenhouse gases showed up. Then there were just the curious people who had stopped for a slice of pizza or were just passing by and stopped to see what would happen.
More protesters showed up shortly after 10, when members of the Moscow Volunteer Peace Band began playing music.
About half an hour later, Moscow Police officers told protesters they needed to move further west toward Main Street because of a noise complaint from a resident near the Pie Hole.
A couple dozen people picked up their signs, emblazoned with slogans like, “Tar sands oil is a problem, not a solution,” “scenic roads, not megaloads,” “recoil from oil,” “Exxon reduces Moscow, too” and “Stop the machinery of planetary rape,” and began walking through the dark streets of downtown.
By the time midnight hit, at least a hundred people had assembled along Washington Street to prepare for the megaload’s arrival.
Latah County resident Greg Larson smeared black paint on his face and carried a large sign reading “mega ugly.”
“Ultimately, I don’t have to make a moral statement, but an aesthetic one,” he said. “(The oil sands project) is just too ugly.”
He said he was tired after getting off work Thursday but felt a duty to protest.
“If they can do that in Syria, I can do this in Moscow,” he said.
University of Idaho law student Al Baker and a group of his friends stood on a corner opposite the protesters, holding signs supporting the megaloads and oil sands project.
He said he didn’t think the megaload was something worth protesting, given the amount of work done to determine the feasibility of its travel plan. He held a sign that said, “I (heart) commerce.”
Fellow counterprotester and law student Reed Colten said the oil sands project didn’t concern him.
“Have you been to the gas station lately?” he asked. “The more oil, the better.”
Protesters near Second and Washington streets began booing and devising ways to obstruct the megaload as soon as the first pilot vehicles from Mountain West Transportation made their way through downtown.
Pedestrians darted in and out of the roadway, playing chicken as more convoy vehicles entered the city. One man slapped the side of a Mountain West Transportation pilot vehicle as he rushed into the street, while other protesters booed at and displayed their middle fingers to the drivers.
A counterprotester shouted, “Run over ’em!” as about a dozen protesters paced back and forth in the crosswalk in front of the Mountain West vehicles.
When the megaload finally reached Third and Washington streets, it rumbled to a halt as several protesters sat crosslegged in the middle of the crosswalk.
When it became apparent law enforcement were going to allow the protesters to sit for several minutes, dozens more people streamed into the roadway to form a raucous crowd behind their peers sitting in the crosswalk. Others shouted at the protesters to get out of the street to let the megaload pass.
Eventually police broke out several zip ties and warned those sitting in the crosswalk that they’d be placed under arrest if they didn’t move. The activists stayed put, so police moved in and began pulling them off the roadway.
As people dispersed from the roadway, the megaload began inching forward, forcing stragglers to hustle aside.
Police followed the protesters who followed the megaload as it made its way north out of downtown without incident.
A handful of protesters rushed to their vehicles to follow the megaload north to its resting spot near the Latah and Benewah county line, but most who participated in the protest walked back toward downtown.
“Save your signs – they’ll be back,” said Moscow Police Lt. Paul Kwiatkowski said to a group of women walking near him.
“You better treat your arrestees right,” one woman shouted back at him.
“They’re in jail, they’re good,” Kwiatkowski replied. “They’ll get a free meal.”
(By Holly Bowen and Brandon Macz, Staff Writers, Moscow-Pullman Daily News)