CHOKEPOINTS

WSP defends actions during protesters’ 5-hour takeover of I-5

Jan 9, 2024, 2:57 PM

wsp charges protest I-5...

Protesters block a portion of Interstate 5 in Seattle on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. (Photo: Jason Rantz, AM 770 KTTH)

(Photo: Jason Rantz, AM 770 KTTH)

The Washington State Patrol (WSP) is firing back at critics after it took five hours to clear Interstate 5 (I-5) of protesters last weekend.

I have heard this for days now, and I have been thinking it too. Why did it take the WSP so long to clear the freeway when protesters shut down I-5 in Seattle on Saturday?

There was an unsubstantiated rumor that a takeover protest would be happening, and the WSP mobilized it ramp response/closure plan. But the tactics used by the protesters caught the WSP off guard, as they used cars as a blockade and flooded the lanes with people through cuts in the freeway fencing.

“Protesters came highly coordinated, highly mobilized, and highly motivated in large numbers,” the WSP’s Chris Loftis said. “They use the ‘Sleeping Dragon’ device, which we have seen in other protests, but we’ve not seen on the highways before.”

Previous coverage: Protesters blocked I-5 in downtown Seattle at Pine Street

For those who don’t know the “Sleeping Dragon” technique, it’s where people tie their arms together inside pipes, which makes it incredibly difficult to remove them.  Other protesters used their cars to block the freeway and then abandoned them, and there were more than 500 people involved.

The plan was to arrest those in the “Sleeping Dragon” and take them to the King County Jail. The rest were going to be transported to a nearby Seattle Police Department precinct.

But a mass arrest of this scale doesn’t happen quickly. And Loftis said there is only one goal in situations like this.

“For those people who are saying ‘Gosh this took too long,’ we did it and we did it safely,” Loftis said.  “We’re always going to do it, and we’re always going to do it safely.”

And troopers are not going to just start cracking heads like we saw in the old days.

“We just aren’t going to go in and act recklessly and exacerbate a problem by not thinking through the possible ramifications,” Loftis said.

‘Illegal’ and ‘dangerous’: No support from WSP

That said, the WSP considers these actions illegal and dangerous.

“We think this is very wrong,” Loftis said. “This is illegal.  This is dangerous.  This is just stupid.  This is just a stupid thing to do.”

And Loftis said the agency doesn’t just allow protesters to do what they want.

“Even though those are constitutionally protected rights, there are boundaries to those rights, and illegal and dangerous behavior is the boundary to those rights,” Loftis said. “You lose that right when you do something that’s going to harm others.”

Opinion from Jason Rantz: WSP gave I-5 Seattle to activists for protest

What about some reports that Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell or Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told the agency to stand down?

“It is not in fact. It is not truth,” Loftis said. “It is not policy. It is not practice. It is noise.”

Loftis said the WSP doesn’t care about your politics.

“We don’t care about your cause,” he said.  “We don’t care if it’s from the right or from the left.  We don’t care how passionate you are. We care about your safety. We care about the traveling public’s safety.  We care about our law enforcement first responder safety.”  The WSP cares about the protesters’ safety too.

And while there were no arrests on Saturday, Loftis said arrests and charges could be coming for those involved. Investigators say they have plenty of evidence, and they putting it together.

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