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Protesting I-69 is fine, but uncivil behavior is not.

By Scott Tibbs, June 30, 2008

Imagine for a moment that opponents of abortion were marching in downtown Bloomington, and a motorist claims the protesters hit his car and complains. Further imagine that the local newspaper's web site featured three protesters facing off with the motorist - with two of the protesters looking like gangsta wannabes with bandannas covering their faces to hide their identity. An intimidating image? I think so. Well, you can stop imagining now and instead look at the photograph below from the Herald-Times web site:

But, you see, the marchers were not protesting abortion, they were protesting Interstate 69. If they were protesting abortion, you would see prominent anti-abortion figures in the community saying that is not an acceptable way to protest the killing of unborn children and you would see advocates of "reproductive choice" loudly condemning the intimidating behavior of anti-abortion protesters.

But since they were protesting Interstate 69, you have prominent Democratic Party activists (including the spouse of a Democratic elected official) rushing to defend this behavior. You have local Leftists blaming the confrontation on the motorist, even though the face-off would not have taken place had the protesters not hit his car. You have prominent Democrats excusing the behavior by complaining about people losing their homes for the interstate via eminent domain - blaming the motorist for a policy of state government he might not even support. Then you would have another high-profile Democratic Party activist making the laughable claim that "those in authority have not allowed reasoned and civil discourse of this issue."

Why is it so difficult for some Leftists to condemn uncivil behavior by Leftist protesters? Unfortunately, the confrontation last weekend was not the first example of uncivil (and even criminal) behavior by I-69 opponents, and it will not be the last.

  • Last August, I-69 opponents disrupted a public meeting meant to help communities prepare for the impact of I-69, childishly screeching the planners were not welcome in the community (a great example of Bloomington being a "safe and civil city") and forcing the organizers to shut down the meeting before it even started.

  • Last July, I-69 opponents vandalized an SUV, scrawling "How's your MPG asshole?" on the rear windshield.

  • In 2005, I-69 opponents vandalized several stop sighs, putting "I-69" bumper stickers on them.

  • In 2002, the intimidating behavior of anti-highway extremists led to police escorting a former Monroe County Commissioner out of a public meeting on I-69 for his own safety.

  • In 2000, the Earth liberation Front attempted to burn down Monroe County Republican Party headquarters as a warning against building I-69.

While I support building Interstate 69, I recognize that there are legitimate concerns about the highway, such as the use of eminent domain to take homes and businesses, the negative effect on the environment, the loss of forests and farms and the huge amount of money the project is going to cost. We have been having a debate on this issue for more than two decades now, and those concerns have not disappeared. But some I-69 opponents are just not content with explaining why they oppose building a new interstate highway through southwest Indiana and must instead raise the level of protest to an unacceptable extreme.

The message to anti-highway activists from the city's leaders needs to be loud and clear: protesting I-69 is fine. You are encouraged to exercise your First Amendment rights to protest against a state project you believe to be harmful, unnecessary or unwise. But while free speech is protected and encouraged, uncivil behavior (such as harassment of motorists by gangsta wannabes) is not acceptable. Why is this so hard?