Trial kicked off Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma in a civil lawsuit brought by six people who contend city officials violated their civil rights during anti-war protests in 2007.
The plaintiffs – Thomas McCarthy, Phan Nguyen, Elizabeth Rivera Goldstein, Patrick Edelbacher, Leah Coakley and Charles Bevis – contend police abridged their constitutional rights to peacefully assemble and speak out.
They did so, according to the suit, by instituting a policy that forbade protesters from carrying bags and backpacks into designated “protest zones” at the Port of Tacoma.
The plaintiffs contend the so-called “backpack ban” was meant to dissuade them from exercising their First Amendment right to free speech by limiting their access to food, water and medications.
“The right to protest peacefully is a time-honored right in our democratic society,” said Sarah Dunne, Washington legal director for the ACLU. “Tacoma police sought to stop peaceful demonstrations at the port and interfered with people’s rights to dissent from the actions of government.”
Police said the ban was a security measure aimed at curtailing the smuggling of weapons or other contraband. The city argued in court pleadings that the ban was proper. Police did not seize anyone’s backpacks, only told protesters they could not carry them in certain areas.
“The city exercised dominion and control over a portion of a public street by determining who would be allowed to enter,” city attorneys wrote. “This type of restriction in specified public forums is not uncommon and does not result in a seizure of the property.”
City attorneys pointed out that other government agencies, including the National Park Service, forbid people from carrying backpacks in certain museums and other tourist sites, including the White House and the Washington Monument.
The port was the setting of 12 days of protests during March 2007 by people who opposed using the port for the shipment of military vehicles to Iraq. More than 30 people were arrested, including protesters who defied the backpack ban.
The trial is expected to last about three weeks.Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644