Tree-sitter shot, 70 feet up, by CHP rubber bullet

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CHP officers appear to be aiming a gun loaded with rubber bullets at a tree sitter in Willits.

Tree-sitting is nothing new. It's happened all over California, going back decades. It's a dangerous, but often effective protest tool that stops logging in its tracks.

Nobody with any official sanction is going to cut down a tree while there's a human perched in it -- and it's been notoriously difficult for the authorities to remove people from platforms high above the forest.

And now, in Mendocino County, police response has entered a new phase.

California Highway Patrol officers April 2 began forcibly removing and arresting tree sitters trying to block Caltrans from clear-cutting an old-growth forest for the Willits Bypass. The tactics involved shooting at least one protester with a rubber bullet while he was 70 feet in the air.

The police used large-scale charry picker trucks to reach and "extract" the activists. Three have been removed so far; another two remain.

"We have reports of between three and nine bullets being fired," Naomi Wagner, who is supporting the tree sitters, told me.

Matt Callaghan, who was on the scene when the arrests were made, said the man hit by the bullet, who goes by the name of Celsius, was "conscious and seemed okay when they got him down. He shouted that he was being taken to the hospital."

Callaghan said that "there were also fists flying around up there. We were very concerned for the safety of everyone involved."

No shit.

Why, exactly, would a rubber bullet be helpful in getting someone out of a tree? Isn't there a pretty good chance the projectile could knock him to the ground (and his death)? Was this really necessary to build a road that fewer and fewer people in Willits seem to want?

I couldn't reach anyone at the CHP, but Caltrans spokesperson Phil Frisbie confirmed to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that "some less lethal means" were used on one of the tree sitters.

I'll keep you posted as this develops. Seems like a lot of overkill for a simple trespass violation.