Police Tried to Cut Off Transit Access to Airport Protests

The scene at SeaTac airport Saturday, where police briefly interrupted transit service. Photo:  Browngoetz via Twitter
The scene at SeaTac airport Saturday, where police briefly interrupted transit service. Photo: Browngoetz via Twitter

Thousands of protesters were pouring into American airports Saturday in response to Donald Trump’s refugee ban, when suddenly light rail service skipped the Seattle-Tacoma airport. A similar scene unfolded in New York, where Port Authority police briefly barred people from getting to the protests at JFK via transit until Governor Cuomo intervened.

Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog has this report on the SeaTac transit situation, where police also intervened. The incident raises serious questions about who controls access to transit in these situations, he writes:

Around 6:30pm, Link light rail operators were asked by the Port of Seattle Police Department to suspend service to SeaTac/Airport Station. Operators complied, and protesters and passengers were forced off at Tukwila Int’l Blvd station and forced either to catch crush loaded A-Line buses or walk the 1.5 miles to the terminal. The station is on Port property, and Port Police asked for the closure in order to buy time to get backup police to the airport, The Stranger reports.  Within minutes, Sound Transit began taking a beating on Twitter, as by all appearances it had been they who ordered the closure.

But Sound Transit executives later indicated they were surprised by the closure, as it had already been implemented by lower-level staff. Once CEO Rogoff was made aware of the closure, he immediately worked to get service restored, and trains resumed service to SeaTac shortly after 7:00. Dow published a series of tweets thanking CEO Rogoff for restoring service, while also saying that Metro (who operates Link) and Sound Transit would meet beginning Monday to establish closure procedures that ensure that such an action won’t be taken again without being elevated to senior staff.

So while the closure was unfortunate and obstructed the rights of legal public demonstration, I think it’s appropriate to react gracefully in light of the multi-agency response. Saturday was a rightfully tense day at a multi-jurisdictional facility (CBP, FAA, DHS, Port, ST, KCM) concerning tragic matters of life, death, family, and national identity. The Port was supportive of the protest cause, and earlier in the day had released a statement condemning the executive orders. Port Commissioner Gregoire also repeatedly voiced support.

In light of the closure, riders deserve an answer to the question, “Who can order closures, and when?” But for its part Saturday, Sound Transit had successfully elevated the issue to the Executive level, taken reparative action, and issued a public statement, within 30 minutes. All things considered, that’s pretty damn good. It’s good to know that our agencies support the rights of protest, and understand the value of transit as a public utility that makes it possible.

More recommended reading today: Bike Portland reports on local bicyclists who’ve taken street sweeping into their own hands during the hazardous winter months. The Natural Resources Defense Council releases its vision for what a responsible $1 trillion infrastructure plan would look like. And World Streets reports from Bogota’s recent Car Free Day, which yielded some remarkable temporary public health improvements.

  • Flubert

    If the airports were becoming dangerously over-crowded then that would be an appropriate safety precaution.

    But why not criticize the people who were attempting to disrupt airline passengers? Airlines are transport providers too, you know?

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    “Congress shall make no law …abridging the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

  • AMH

    I suppose Congress has made no law, at least not yet…

  • LAguttersnipe

    If they were doing it for “safety” the Police would have closed the roads also…but they didn’t.

    The people were protesting the disruption(more like humiliation) that brown airline passengers were facing at that moment. ya know.

  • david vartanoff

    police actually honoring the Constitution, surely you jest.

  • Flubert

    Maybe so, but you can express free speech without disrupting travel.

    Chances are that most protesters were arriving by bus or BART

  • Frank Sha Francois

    Civil disobedience is a needed pain for growth. It entails inconveince and sacrifice. To demonstrate in a park, is no more than a picnic

  • Flubert

    Frank, what you are really admitting there is that you don’t want freedom of speech at all, because you can have that in a park. Nor do you respect those with whom you disagree. IOW, you are intolerant.

    You want to intimidate, harass and try and blackmail people into supporting you, even though you are not engaging with the people who are responsible for this policy. And just because you are so utterly convinced that you are right.

    I have news for you. Everyone thinks they are right. And I am LESS likely to support your goals if you mess with me.

  • You saw what BART in the San Francisco Bay Area tweeted on Saturday, right?

    You can take BART to all kinds of weekend events – also, direct service to SFO is running great right now.


  • zero

    Bigots and the small-minded will never turn from their inner echo chambers to see the world of pain they cause unless that world of pain intrudes.

  • RichardC

    Protesters were at airports because that’s where the consequences of the executive order were playing out, and therefore where a protest would be most topically appropriate and attract the most attention. There was no harassment or blackmail in the protest I was part of – just a bunch of people with signs stating their views. What’s so intimidating about that?

  • Flubert

    Neither the operators of that airport nor the passengers transiting it are in any way responsible for the order so it’s an unreasonable location.

    And it is harassment if I am inconvenienced even slightly, and I am likely to feel harassed.

    Suppose I decide to protest your politics by going to your house and blocking your path in or out. Fair and free speech?

  • Flubert

    OK, so if I decide that your politics is causing me pain, I can break all the windows in your house so that you “feel my pain”?

  • Tom

    Personal attacks are not usually considered protests. If you really wanted to, I think it would be okay to picket on the sidewalk in front of an individuals house, but attacking them would be considered assault, not a protest.

  • Tom

    Public policy is not usually made based on a ‘chances are’ opinion. Normally some kind of data is needed. Even if it was found that protesters were mostly using the train, wouldnt shutting down the trains just trap the protesters at the airport? Maybe thats not what you want. It might make more sense to shut down the car lanes leading into the airport, while leaving the car lanes leaving the airport open, and leave the trains running.

  • Flubert

    So you are countering my speculation with another speculation?

    If an unusually large crowd assembles that is causing an obstruction then I think it is reasonable that the security and emergency services make decisions based on their best judgement. They are the experts, you are not, so I’m going with their version.

  • Flubert

    There is a middle option though. A peaceful picket is fine but NOT if it obstructs or delays others – then it is causing harm just as though your windows were broken.

    Why not strive to first do no harm?

  • Todd

    So you have the constitutional right to shout in a public library?

    Didn’t think so.

  • C Monroe

    Airports and freeways are the new town square. Media usually doesn’t cover protests unless it disrupts something.

  • Flubert

    The problem is that you get BAD media. And you turn people off your ideas.

  • Tom

    But they reversed the decision in only half an hour, so what really was the their ‘version’, the first half hour based on low level staff acting outside protocol, or the rest of the day after it was promptly reversed?

    “Once CEO Rogoff was made aware of the closure, he immediately worked to get service restored”.

  • Tom

    The law would not consider property damage the same as being inconvenienced with delay, even if that were the case which its not clear it was. Property damage is typically a much more serious thing. People break down on the roadway, block the road, and hold others up all the time, but we don’t throw them in jail for causing delay. I don’t think you can compare the two.

  • Flubert

    There is a clear difference between breaking down (not intended) and going out of your way to obstruct. I feel sure you can see that.

    Yes, property damage is worse than obstruction. And murder is worse than property damage. But why do any of those? Why not enjoy free speech while respecting others?

  • Flubert

    We can’t know the factors that drive the decision. But a large crowd in a sensitive area would reasonable raise concerns for safety and security, as well as the efficient running of the facility, so such a decision may have seemed prudent.


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