For a change, throw the book at Bangor protesters

According to a news release from the Poulsbo-based Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, three members of the organization face charges in U.S. District Court next week for protest actions last May at Naval Base Kitsap/Bangor.

Rev. Bill Bichsel, Rev. Anne Hall and Tom Karlin — from Tacoma, Seattle and Lakewood, respectively — are charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor carrying a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Here’s hoping they wind up spending every day in jail and paying every nickel of that.

As the group’s news release proudly points out, “While thousands of people have been arrested in actions sponsored by Ground Zero ... since its inception in 1977, this is its first trial in federal court since 1989.”

Which raises several interesting questions. Mainly, how has a loosely organized group of latter-day flower children managed to keep deliberately breaking the law here for so long?

Could be they’re not being prosecuted as vigorously in Kitsap County and penalized as harshly as they ought to be. For starters, it seems like it would take all the fun out of their little game if the perpetrators actually did have to spend six months in jail and fork over $5,000 every time they played it.

We’ve argued before that if what the protesters are doing at Bangor isn’t really all that disruptive, local law enforcement officials have better things to do with their time than to continually run up there and arrest them at public expense.

But if it is disruptive — and the fact that there’s a federal law against it suggests maybe it is — the penalty should be severe enough to discourage repeat offenses.

However strongly they may believe in the virtue of their cause, the legal system doesn’t exist to provide a forum for the protesters to express their views. It exists to mete out punishment to people who break the laws we all live by.

Since the Bangor protestors haven’t been sufficiently discouraged by local authorities, maybe the federal courts can make their antics a bit more expensive.

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