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OPINION - Law enforcement and the protesters

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)   If you don’t know, a monkey spike is a small metal ball that gets buried on a dirt road. It’s purpose is to blow out the tire of a vehicle that drives over it. A tree spike is a small steel rod that gets nailed into a tree. It’s purpose is to damage the cutting blade of an industrial saw used for logging.

These used to be common eco-terrorist tactics against the logging industry. Now we have laws that keep protesters away from large-scale logging sites.

Gogebic Taconite is also having problems with some demonstrators at their test drilling site. It’s not clear if the Iron and Ashland county sheriffs departments are simply failing in their duty or if they’re understaffed to deal with a fairly large number of protestors in a fairly remote area. Not wanting their project delayed, G-Tac hired private security as its workers went into the field. It’s an unfortunate expense that the company shouldn’t have to bear. They hold a proper license; they’re entitled to do their work.

The protesting that’s happening now is probably just a feeling out process. Militant demonstrators are testing what they can and can’t get away with. Harassing workers seems to be ok. Potentially-lethal vandalism has gone unpunished. (Bolts were removed from bridge decks on remote roads.) The problem is demonstrators will be emboldened next time if police don’t draw a line in the sand.

What will happen when protesters chain themselves to G-Tac’s mining equipment? What will happen when they occupy land that’s about to be used for drilling?

Back in the days of logging protests, ‘tree sitters’ would climb into tree that were marked to be cut down. Getting them down was almost impossible – they could de-facto shut down a logging operation if law enforcement failed to keep them out of the general area. No one can justify cutting down a tree with protestors in it. Yet demonstrators have no right to stop a lawful activity that’s already gone through the permitting process and legal review.  If law enforcement can’t make a stand now, it will be more difficult later.

Chris Conley
6.19.13