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Greg Elsner, Published April 04 2009

Arrest was not justified

I am a full-time graduate student at North Dakota State University, live in an apartment in downtown Fargo and was arrested last week after a full day of sandbagging. The staff-reported March 27 article “Violations lead to 8 arrests in Fargo” is unsubstantiated, irresponsible, and an insult to a group of hard-working volunteers.

After yet another full day sandbagging in Gardner and Oakport, my buddy Kevin Ruhland and I returned to Fargo. We walked down the road to the river three blocks from home to talk to the guardsmen stationed on the corner about the day’s effort. After working in other areas throughout the week, we wanted to know how the river was affecting the immediate neighborhood in which we live.

We were not sneaking in the dark or recklessly climbing around on the dike, but approached a well-lit corner occupied by both the National Guard and Fargo Police Department. The police officer at the corner could have simply informed us of the new arrest policy (which was passed hours before while we were sandbagging), and asked us to turn around.

Instead, we were arrested sporting knee-high boots, soaked and icy, covered with sand and mud. Instead of catching some sleep and getting back on the lines, we wasted county resources spending a night in jail and awaiting an afternoon hearing. When that hearing came, the judge, fully aware of our efforts, felt inclined to impose a fine of $150, a $50 service fee and 30 hours of community service. We were not “sightseers” and were anything but “ashamed” to be there.

I understand the need to keep real gawkers and meddlers away, but these arrests were made by a police force acting in an overly militarized fashion, lacking any account for reason. Even today, real gawkers can be seen all around the city, milling about with cameras.

If any research had been done, you would have found that seven of the eight names listed in The Forum article are area college students, but more importantly local residents who’ve volunteered long hours working hard to help save their community. You published “most were sightseers” and that “most of them were ashamed of why they were there.” These statements are grossly inaccurate and untrue.

Furthermore, to publish an article associating these arrests with a group of people caught stealing sandbags is shameful, irresponsible journalism and a slap in the face to a tireless group of community volunteers.

We need to keep real gawkers and meddlers away, but arresting hard-working volunteers in an effort to make some kind of a point is not the way to do it.