Throw the book at protestors or just ignore them

An estimated 45 people spent their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 15 protesting the presence of Trident

nuclear submarines at Naval Submarine Base Bangor.

According to a news release from the protesters’ own organization, the Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, three lanes of the highway entering the base were blocked for about 15 minutes, resulting in the arrest of 11 demonstrators — not that they minded, of course. In fact, being arrested and hauled off to jail was the whole point of the protest. It makes them feel useful. Everyone has to have a hobby, and theirs is making fools of themselves.

Those arrested ranged in age from 31 to 71 years old. They were taken into custody by Kitsap County deputies and later released.

A week later, there was still no word on whether charges would be filed, but the odds are against it, given that the same organization has staged regular protests at Bangor for years but no charges have even been filed since February 2000.

According to Ground Zero, Kitsap County authorities have declined to prosecute because, “Juries and judges have found that people arrested at Bangor protests have the legal right to redress grievances under international and U.S. law.”

OK, something here doesn’t make sense. If the protesters aren’t breaking any laws, why are they being arrested? And if they are, why aren’t they prosecuted?

Kitsap County, one assumes, has more pressing business to which its deputies could attend than arresting people who figure to be back out on the street in less than an hour none the worse for the experience and with a lot of cool stories to tell their fellow travelers about how heroic they were in the face of their harrowing ordeal.

We’ll further assume the deputies don’t make a habit of arresting people they know to be innocent just for practice. This leads to the conclusion that either the Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor aren’t on the same page about this situation, or the Kitsap County Superior Court doesn’t read the law the same way its law enforcement officials do, or that everyone involved simply goes along with this little kabuki dance just to give the protesters something to brag about at their regular conclaves.

In any case, none of this strikes us as an appropriate use of law enforcement’s time or the taxpayers’ money.

Just to restate the obvious, everyone has the right to air their grievances, but not in ways that infringe on the rights of others. If the protesters want to walk up and down the public sidewalk singing songs, carrying signs and shaking tambourines, that’s certainly their privilege. But when they block the roads and keep Bangor employees from getting to their jobs — particularly at what is obviously a sensitive defense facility while the nation is at war — they’re breaking the law, and it’s appropriate to take legal action.

Once apprehended, it’s up to the Prosecutor to press charges and the judge to impose a sentence on the lawbreakers. For a non-violent, unpre-meditated first offense, maybe a stern warning and a small fine would be an appropriate penalty. But these protests are anything but spontaneous, and many of those involved take great pride in the number of times they’ve made a nuisance of themselves and been arrested.

In such cases, it’s hard to see why the law isn’t applied as it was intended to be — as a deterrent to committing crimes rather than a reward.

As noted earlier, it isn’t the job of Kitsap County deputies to babysit a handful of zealots and carpool them to the courthouse when their day’s work is finished. While these people are being coddled, real crimes — the kind we need to be protected from — are being committed elsewhere.

If they’re not breaking any laws, leave them alone. If they are, throw the book at them. It’s just that simple.

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