Learning about law at the Farmer’s Market

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Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 2:07 am  //  Ellen Murphy

A beautiful June day at the Bellingham Farmers’ Market and a sudden joyful noise arises from the strolling public. The local contingent of the World Naked Bike Ride has arrived on Railroad Avenue. Remembering that the annual ride is intended to raise awareness and support for non fossil-fueled transportation, I walk over to the curb to cheer. There they are, maybe thirty painted and barely clad cyclists, fig leafed in amazingly creative ways and doing loops for the market throng. Above the din a loud voice is heard from a police officer on the Railroad/Maple corner of the Market repeating “Are you offended? Is anyone offended? Are you offended?”

The looks on peoples’ faces bespeak a communal, “Huh?” I feel for the police officer who pulled this duty on a rare sunny Saturday, but curiosity overcomes pity, so I ask him, “What would happen if I told you I am offended?” His answer is prompt and firm. ”We’d shut it down.”

The ride, better named “The Almost Naked Bike Ride,” quickly moves on to the interurban trail. On my walk home, huge bag of mixed baby kale in hand, it strikes me: Wow! I have the power to shut things down! All I have to do is tell the police what offends me! I mentally begin to compose my list. Talk about stress-reduction and empowerment! I had been offended for so long by so many things, never knowing the law was eager to hear my list so it could go into action. When I get home, I begin writing out my list.


All wars and occupations
All profiteering weapons industries,
their lobbyists, and political beneficiaries
All mountain-top removal and strip mines
Goldman Sachs and Peabody energy,
especially when they make deals with
railroads and Warren Buffett

The Patriot Act
Homeland Security
Nuclear power plants, starting with GE Mark I’s
BP and all offshore drilling
All clear cutting
All fracking
School of the Americas (even though re-named)
All tar sands operations
All for-profit prisons
All coal-fired power plants
All uranium mining and depleted uranium

The War on Drugs
All sweat shops and exploited labor
All human trafficking
Tax breaks for fat cats
Health insurance money in Congressional pockets
Star Wars (re-named Missile Defense)
ICE raids……

Well, that’s a start. I didn’t get the officer’s name, so if anyone knows exactly where I can send my list for prompt and firm shut downs, please let me know, because I really need relief under the law. If it turns out to have been just a “How To Handle The Naked Ride” policy and not a way for real relief, then let’s start passing some ordinances that might help save the earth and her creatures, including ourselves. If I had needed to defend myself against some scrawny thighs and pastied breasts, I could simply have turned away, or if shocked and offended, informed the officer sans solicitation. But I cannot simply turn away from corporate despotism and destruction of my rights to clean air, soil, and water, to peace, and to fundamental equity for my fellow creatures and future generations. It’s a capital offense when naked greed and aggression have taken us all for a ride.

Rob Stratton  //  Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 7:22 am

Things that offend me, unconstitutional proactive police willing to stomp on peoples freedom of expression and free speech.

Tip Johnson  //  Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 12:09 pm

How many times (or for how long) did the officer repeat the question?

Rob Stratton  //  Sat, Jun 25, 2011, 7:29 am

This article bothered me on two levels one, the police officer pushing and proactively looking for a reason to arrest someone (entrapment, coercion)

The other is the authors list of things that bother her….some of the things I agree with the others show a willingness to want freedom on one level but than do an about face and intrude on the freedoms of others on another level. We are all free or we are all slaves.

There is no way you are ever going to wipe out “greed” ever, and even the most “communal” communistic thinking people are greedy. It is an inherit human nature to look after ourselves first and then our community second. The rich pay the majority of the taxes in our country already, and it shows greed on many “poorer” people to want them to pay for more services they demand. They also provide many jobs, that have raised the standard of living for U.S. citizens to above just about any other country.

I for one offer one solution, drastically reduce police size and “powers” since most municipalities spend in excess of 40% of their budgets on unconstitutional proactive policing.

David Camp  //  Sat, Jun 25, 2011, 11:56 am

Rob - I was surprised also because my experience of the BPD is that they respond to complaints rather than proactively policing, which is how it should be in a community like Bellingham where most people are self-regulating. The police are called out to deal with incidents of poor social hygiene that are too much for community social intervention to control.

Perhaps the officer was from a more conservative social milieu and needed to confirm for himself that people were not offended by something he would not want his family to view.

Too bad about that attitude but it takes a long time to overcome puritanical body-hatred. If our bodies are temples wherein the divine may reside, should we not also honor and glorify them? How else can we welcome divinity?

Rob Stratton  //  Sat, Jun 25, 2011, 7:08 pm


I have had very different experiences with BPD. They know me well and don’t like me. They paid me $1500 not to take them to federal court for violating my rights and numerous other laws, such as coercion.

Try to file ask for a complaint form they will refuse to give you one unless a superior officer validates your complaint, talk about the fox watching the hen house. I also have approached both prosecutors with evidence in my hand of crimes that have been done by an officer and they flat out told me they don’t prosecute law enforcement. In my view police are little more than traffic control, revenue collectors and janitors. I believe we are in need of a little law enforcement but that these agencies have gone way beyond their constitutional boundaries.

Tip Johnson  //  Mon, Jun 27, 2011, 4:37 pm

Hopefully things are getting better at the BPD, but Ellen’s observation makes it easy to be skeptical.

During the tenure of our last police chief, many noticed a dramatic change in police behavior.  Instead of the traditional supervision of events of political or social expression, police started cracking down on dissent.  Sporting lots of new robo-cop gear, they began obstructing such expression, often initiating and escalating events to violence and arrests.

The first incidence of this I saw was at the Pit Park demonstration.  I personally witnessed police invite the demonstrators to “garden all they want” and saw police watch, without objection, even as stairs were built to allow safer access to the pit.  People of all walks came and appreciated the planting and decoration, notably full of pleasant slogans about building better community.

These kids weren’t protesting anything. They were advocating for public space.  Turns out there was an underlying scandal they knew nothing about.  This interested me, so I visited frequently to monitor their progress.

The property was being transferred at a bargain price to a developer without following the City’s own guidelines for surplus property.  The lucky recipient just happened to have earlier knowledge that the site was atop a coal mine that limited it’s building capacity.  His successful proposal for the property included plans for a building he knew could not be built.  Later, after the transfer, this problem resurfaced and the City was required to spend half a million dollars shoring the whole thing up with a concrete building pad extending to the floor of the vacant coal galley.

After giving the demonstrators the nod, police withdrew their presence until just after midnight when the Herald presses had started to roll and reports could no longer be included in the next day’s paper.  Then they descended in force, using pain compliance techniques to drag kids off to jail.  They were viscously prosecuted in our new municipal court, driving many out of town for good.

Another time, I went downtown to take pictures of a group of college kids advocating for clean air and promoting a public meeting scheduled to discuss Georgia-Pacific’s plan to power their plant with numerous diesel generators.  Two friendly bike cops had the whole parade under control until the Chief set up an ambush across from the YMCA.  The first sign of trouble was the appearance of a G-P security truck surveilling the scene and communicating on a radio. The demonstrators walked right into the ambush and the arrests commenced.  I tried to take a picture of the first arrestee crying in the back seat of a patrol car.  I was arrested, my camera smashed and was subsequently prosecuted for about two years.  What fun!

Later still. I saw a full riot gear squad step in and obstruct a group marching for peace as they paused in front of the Herald Building.  It was totally unnecessary for a group of peaceniks, but effective.  Offensive police behavior stimulated objections from the crowd and the arrests began.

After these experiences, I started viewing the force with trepidation.  I had worked with many officers during my time on the City Council, and knew some personally from their coffee breaks at my little boatyard.  I felt bad about not trusting them, but later discovered the concern was warranted.

A couple years ago I was escorting a neighbor to Sehome Haggens late one winter evening.  I stayed outside while she shopped and met a friend in the parking lot.  While we were talking, a man ran out of the store, chased by five others.  They tackled, beat, searched and partially stripped the man.  When I approached to object to the continued assault, I was threatened.  The police came - lots of them. They completely ignored us innocent bystanders for nearly an hour, eventually refusing to take a report and issuing a lifetime trespass admonition against me at the Sehome Haggens.  I tried filing a complaint, but as Rob points out, it is a closed system.  I tried even beyond the department with the Mayor and the Council.  I felt this was important because the way the Police managed the event resulted in Brady Materials being withheld from the arrestee, thus compromising his defense.  This is a serious federal violation that needs to be procedurally addressed.  My comments were dutifully heard and ignored by the City Council and Mayor Pike.  You can read about it all here:
+ Link

Later I was invited to attend a private meeting with advocacy groups and the police to discuss how to build better relations.  Those in attendance put some effort into describing the problem and possible solutions.  Everyone had input and then went home.  Most thought some kind of Citizen-Police Advisory Board was needed.  No report was ever produced (that I know of) or any procedural changes recommended.

Nevertheless, I sense and hope that less police abuse going on under the department’s new administration, but the codification of procedures has not changed, so the civil behavior of police is still at the pleasure of the Chief.

Even a beating and the withholding of Brady Materials was not enough to urge Mayor Pike or Council to action.

David Camp  //  Mon, Jun 27, 2011, 7:07 pm

Rob & Tip,

I admit to surprise to hear of your experiences with the BPD. I think that every officer swears an oath to protect the Constitution, which include the right to peaceably assemble. The should be protecting protesters and saluting them for taking their civic duty seriously, not oppressing them like a bunch of Chicago goons.

As a salutary example of good policing, consider the behavior of the Vancouver (BC) police at the 4-20 demonstration in front of the Art Gallery. It is attended by well over 5,000 people, and culminates with a mass cannabis smoke-out. The Vancouver PD were out in moderate numbers, making sure traffic is moving safely and dealing with any trouble - which is mostly caused by the odd drunk.

But of course can you imagine a more peaceful group than a bunch of pot activists in the park?

Rob Stratton  //  Tue, Jun 28, 2011, 8:12 am

Tip! I have your experience already bookmarked. Would love to chat with you sometime. Seems like we have some common experience with Mr. Slodysko.


I agree that the Vancouver PD handled that well. I do not smoke pot or do recreational drugs, except for coffee and the occasional drink. And do not understand this unconstitutional loosing drug war we are forced to pay for.

Learning about law at the Farmer’s Market

Where are the police when aggression and naked greed take us all for a ride?

Ellen Murphy
Wed, Jun 22, 2011, 2:07 am
8 comments; last on Jun 28, 2011

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