MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Push for tougher laws on obstructing traffic grows after recent protests

Jan 16, 2024, 4:33 PM | Updated: 5:38 pm

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)

Senate Bill 6160, sponsored by Washington State Senator Drew MacEwen, was introduced to increase the penalties for unlawfully obstructing traffic.

Currently in Washington, it is a misdemeanor when a group of three or more people refuses to disperse after being instructed to do so by police. MacEwen’s bill pushes the penalty to a Class C felony if they fail to disperse from a public roadway.

“Every person has the right to peacefully protest on whatever issue they feel passionately about, but they do not have the right to infringe on other’s rights, including the ability to travel freely,” MacEwen said. “What if there was an ambulance with a patient needing critical hospital care that was held up? Or a working mom or dad needing to pick up a child from daycare, who just burned a tank of gas sitting on the highway. There’s a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck who needed to get to their job that day.”

Jason Rantz on I-5 protest: WA State Patrol gave I-5 Seattle to activists for protest

MacEwan’s bill is a response to the protest on Interstate 5 earlier this month, where activists blocked the freeway earlier this month in a call for a ceasefire in Gaza. At least eight people were arrested as it took Washington State Patrol (WSP) nearly five hours to clear the thoroughfare. Traffic was extended for approximately six miles.

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

The “Sleeping Dragon” technique is when people tie their arms together inside pipes as a way to make it difficult to remove them. Other activists left their vehicles on the freeway to block traffic.

WSP needed to deploy bomb-sniffing dogs to search for explosives along the highway.

“Those people who blocked the highway and shut it down for hours on end infringed on other people’s rights,” MacEwen said. “And they don’t have the right to do that.”

Loftis echoed MacEwen’s statement, stating that WSP considers these actions illegal and dangerous.

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

MacEwen’s bill, first introduced to the legislature on Jan. 11, was co-sponsored by Senators Nikki Torres, Jeff Wilson and Lynda Wilson. The bill has been referred to the Law and Justice Committee. A similar bill in the House of Representatives, HB 2358, was sponsored by Rep. Andrew Barkis with 35 cosponsors already attached. The bill is likely to become a companion bill with SB 6160 as it looks to increase penalties for obstructing highways, create felony charges for endangering public safety and create mandatory minimums for repeat offenders.

More on HB 2358: New state bill aims to crack down on protesters blocking highways

“First and foremost, law enforcement needs to arrest the folks that are doing this. These are not peaceful protests,” MacEwen said. “The problem in this instance was the State Patrol was the lead agency, and the State Patrol ultimately answers to the governor. This administration tends to look the other way when there are far-left protests. I think there is some fear from the governor that there could be major political blowback if law enforcement were allowed to do their job. What about the rights of the other 8 million people in the state?  We need to be an orderly society. Let’s enforce the law.”

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Push for tougher laws on obstructing traffic grows after recent protests