Police Use of Excessive Force at Standing Rock

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Standing-RockBy Jamil Dakwar

In a 4-minute SoundCloud interview with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Angela Bibens describes the devastating effects of tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, mace, and water cannons used on 400 peaceful protestors in North Dakota by local police in the last 48 hours. The confrontation arose as protestors attempted to move two burned trucks off Backwater Bridge just north of the Oceti Sakowin “Water Protector” Camp, which had blocked the main route to the city of Bismarck and delayed emergency services.

According to Bibens, several demonstrators suffered seizures, broken ligaments, loss of bowel control, and, in some cases, loss of consciousness, including one elder who went into cardiac arrest. A reported 300 people have been injured, 26 hospitalized, and several arrested. Both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne Sioux Tribes deployed emergency services for on-the-ground resuscitation and opened a nearby community center for evacuation.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department tried to justify their use of force by calling the protestors ”very aggressive” and framing their demonstration as an “ongoing riot,” while simultaneously denying their use of certain less-lethal weapons entirely.

In a press conference, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told reporters, “We don’t have a water cannon. I don’t know where the term water cannon comes from. This was basically just a fire hose.”

The sheriff’s office claimed that fire trucks were used to stop fires they say were started by the activists. But a video posted to Twitter yesterday clearly shows authorities drenching protestors in areas where there were no fires, using tanks that bear no resemblance to fire trucks.

The health risks associated with deploying these weapons cannot be understated. In a joint report by the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations (of which the ACLU is a founding member) and Physicians for Human Rights, water cannons are characterized as particularly dangerous and life-threatening weapons. The use of water cannons can induce facial, skull, and rib fractures; brain trauma; bruises; prolonged nausea; and even blindness. Water cannons have been attributed to deaths in Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Turkey, South Korea, and Ukraine.

In North Dakota this weekend, temperatures reached 26 Fahrenheit, or -3 Celsius, making the targets of water cannons also susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite. A member of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council told reporters that she could hear the sound of clothes “crunching” as people walked in garments frozen to their bodies. For this reason, the Healer Council demanded the immediate cessation of these weapons and expressed concern for “the real risk of loss of life due to severe hypothermia under these conditions.”

Use of unjustified force and massive less-lethal weapons by law enforcement against largely peaceful protestors is all too familiar. We’ve seen it in Ferguson, Baltimore, even in Standing Rock this past month. The ACLU and other groups warned against abusive police practices at Standing Rock and called on the Justice Department to investigate possible constitutional violations and suspend police use of federally supplied military equipment.

These tactics have not occurred in a vacuum. In fact, they’ve attracted international condemnation for their apparent violation of international human rights standards on the use of force by law enforcement. Just last week, a group of UN human rights experts denounced the treatment of Standing Rock protesters stating:

“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is an individual right, and it cannot be taken away indiscriminately or en masse due to the violent actions of a few … the use of violence by some protesters should not be used as a justification to nullify the peaceful assembly rights of everyone else.”

And construction of the pipeline has continued despite a call in September by Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, for it to be halted for posing a significant risk to the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and to their burial and sacred sites.

To make matters worse, the atrocious use of excessive and disproportionate police force is imperceptibly softened by news outlets that frame Sunday’s confrontations as a “clash.” It suggests there is an equal balance of power between the militarized police force and weaponless demonstrators.

This is no “clash.”

It is a catastrophe with serious human rights implications. Nearing the eve of Thanksgiving, a holiday remembered by many indigenous peoples for its legacy of American colonization and genocide, Sunday’s showdown is a contemporary illustration of an age-old oppression that this country must reckon with.

Jamil Dakwar is the Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program

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38 thoughts on “Police Use of Excessive Force at Standing Rock”

      1. South of Davis

        BP wrote:

        > That’s a lot of oil and gas pipelines already in place across America.

        Maybe we could build a combo left wing/native american “reservation” in eastern Nevada (where there are no pipelines) so the eco folks in Old East Davis that want to get out of the death zone between the railroad tracks with oil trains on one side and the PG&E gas pipeline on the other side and the native americans at Standing Rock who don’t want another pipeline.

        P.S. the new reservation could have the Indigenous Environmental Network on 24 hours a day…

        1. Alan Miller

          so the eco folks in Old East Davis that want to get out of the death zone between the railroad tracks with oil trains on one side and the PG&E gas pipeline on the other side and the native americans at Standing Rock who don’t want another pipeline.

          Are you having a meltdown SofD?  Your bitter rants are often uncivil, but I can usually see where you are coming from.  This one was just bizarre-O.

    1. ryankelly

      BP, Don’t pretend to be obtuse.  They are using fire hoses and dogs on protestors.  They are using explosives thrown into a crowd of unarmed people.  This is unacceptable.  The fact that this provides a very bad image of police is inconsequential.  The more important point is that people are getting hurt at the hands of the police….over a pipeline.  The police shouldn’t even be there.  The construction should be stopped and the issue dealt with legally and politically.

      1. Napoleon Pig IV

        Well said, ryankelly. This isn’t about pipelines or drinking water; it’s about an excessive and inane government response to a peaceful protest.

        It seems that no matter whether our government is under a Democratic or a Republican regime, its arrogance and idiocy increases steady as its understanding of the Bill of Rights diminishes.

        Peace is necessary but not always sufficient. All those mindless minions of the State hiding behind their military equipment, water cannons, and rubber bullets should realize that not everyone at whom rubber bullets are fired will load their magazines with rubber bullets before firing back!

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          It seems that no matter whether our government is under a Democratic or a Republican regime

          Napoleon Pig IV

          For the  Democrat’s or Republican’s voters it should matter what their idols are doing . Right?

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          Jerry,

          Yes, I agree. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in the actual practices of officials or appointees of the two main parties once they gain power. So, simply voting for the other party doesn’t accomplish anything.

          I suppose those sufficiently motivated must fight each individual battle, starting peacefully, of course. Speaking of peace, is the use of tear gas by cops considered peaceful or just non-lethal? I wonder how a little tear gas at the Dallas headquarters of Energy Transfer Partners would go over once the suits got a little taste of what’s going on at ground level at Standing Rock?

          Those less motivated should at least work to end the two-party hegemony we currently have – perhaps by voting for third party candidates or by voting only on local issues, or by writing in “None of the Above” wherever the choices suck. Oink!

           

        3. quielo

          “prosecute brutality, i doubt sessions will” SF has a “Mario Woods Remembrance Day” for the celebration of homicidal psychopaths. Maybe Sessions will give homicidal cops their own holiday as well.

  1. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > In a 4-minute SoundCloud interview with the

    > Indigenous Environmental Network,

    When I moved to Davis I never got cable TV.  It looks like I’m not only missing out on all the “Home Shopping Networks” but also the “Indigenous Environmental Network”…

    > The confrontation arose as protestors attempted to move two burned trucks

    > off Backwater Bridge just north of the Oceti Sakowin “Water Protector” Camp,

    > which had blocked the main route to the city of Bismarck and delayed

    > emergency services.

    Would it be OK to block the main entrance to Davis and delay fire trucks and ambulances to protest a pipeline?  How about if Frankly and the other three Republicans in town were protesting the Wisconsin recount that standing rock hero Jill Stein is funding?

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/green-party-candidate-jill-stein-faces-charges-graffiti-protest/

    [moderator] edited, off topic

      1. Jerry Waszczuk

        Chamber Fan

        Maybe you you should check out  how many articles were published on DV in the  last eight years about the  violence , excessive force by police , racial profiling  ,riots , terrorists acts , daily  crimes etc. The  Standing Rock is not exception . Look at the photo in this articles .  Barber wires , riot gears, military vehicle .  It looks like  a photo from Irak or Syria .

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          CF

          It does not matter whether it is  state or federal enforcement .  This one country and  Homeland Security which is overseeing all  law enforcement agencies . It is similar like it was in  the Soviet Union with KGB which translates today to American Homeland Security. What difference is  between these two agencies is political  the political system but goal is basically same.  If don’t still don’t understand than i  can’t help . David is educated in Political Science than he could explain it to you.

        2. Davis Progressive

          different issue.  one deals with the jurisdiction of law enforcement, the other with the defense of the union itself.  the former is a local issue, the latter is a national one.

  2. Alan Miller

    Anyone who has even been sprayed with water in freezing cold knows just how dangerous that is; this is unbelievably inhuman.  This was out of town away from any buildings and therefore the ability to warm bodies up promptly.

    Thanks to Unicorn Riot Press, who are willing to risk arrest and harm, there are videos from the front lines.  These clearly show drenching of protestors while also being pelleted with tear gas canisters.  After the spraying, they zoom in on barbed wire where the spray has already frozen into icicles. Some suspect Unicorn is being targeted because their videos are showing the authorities are lying.

    Of course, the liberal press and protestors are spinning to no help for their cause as well in saying “peaceful protest”.  In doing extensive reading, I agree the intent is for peaceful protest and most are, but front line videos also show protestors throwing rocks at authorities and other acts clearly not peaceful.

    How widespread this is does not matter, the non-violent protestors must stop their violent minority or they will lose, and there may be too little will to take this on, but they must.  Imagine if, at the Pepper Spray incident, protestors had started pelting the police with rocks?  It would have been an entirely different story, and an entirely different ending.  Non-violent tactics are far more powerful than rocks, but all the violence must stop or the authorities will use any incident against the protestors with a corresponding collapse of widespread support.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      “Non-violent tactics are far more powerful than rocks. . . “

      Perhaps this is true when campus cops pepper spray peaceful students, but when governments attack citizens with weapons that can cause permanent disability and death, one has to wonder what the measure of success should be and when it’s time to stop turning the other cheek.

      As for peaceful protests, they clearly need to expand beyond Standing Rock to the executive offices of Energy Transfer Partners, the executive offices of its major institutional shareholders, the headquarters buildings of its major banks, and various sensitive operations run by the Army Corps of Engineers. Where is Edward Abbey when you need him? Anyone up for conjuring his ghost, or at least a high tech simulation, complete with lessons in advanced techniques of modern monkey wrenching?

  3. tribeUSA

    Alan–good analysis; I entirely support their right to a nonviolent protest; unfortunately the few violent ones ruin it for everyone else.

    Wish I knew more about the pipeline project–is there a feasible, practical way to divert the pipeline route around the lake? If not; presumably they will take extra precautions (which may be very expensive) to significantly reduce any chance of pipeline leakage under the lake?

    1. Alan Miller

      A friend who is involved in this (who I went to Big Mountain Arizona with several years ago to witness Peabody Coals’ eradication of Dineh people for a strip mine (it’s already happened)), told me the original route was to the North near Bismark, but the people there and the government wanted it routed away from the Capitol, thus “near” the reservation, on lands the tribe says were taken away from land that was theirs by treaty.  Obama is implying he has a plan to re-route the pipeline – haven’t seen a route or if it is “acceptable” to the tribe.  No matter where, it has to cross the Missouri.  Billions have been spent, the pipeline is 90% complete.  Winter is setting in harsh.  This is unlikely to end without some deaths.

    2. Alan Miller

      A friend who is involved in this (who I went to Big Mountain Arizona with several years ago to witness Peabody Coals’ eradication of Dineh people for a strip mine (it’s already happened)), told me the original route was to the North near Bismark, but the people there and the government wanted it routed away from the Capitol, thus “near” the reservation, on lands the tribe says were taken away from land that was theirs by treaty.  I have confirmed this through several online sources.  Obama is implying he has a plan to re-route the pipeline – haven’t seen a route or if it is “acceptable” to the tribe.  No matter where, it has to cross the Missouri.  Billions have been spent, the pipeline is 90% complete.  Winter is setting in harsh.  This is unlikely to end without some deaths.

  4. tribeUSA

    Alan–interesting, so they have a huge stake in finishing the last 10% ASAP; I don’t know if they can do much work in the exceptionally frigid winters up there. Hopefully some kind of a compromise can be worked out by spring. The Indians need a great negotiator like Trump on their side (unfortunately Trump’s sympathies might lie closer to the oil companies; however I think he might help promote some kind of compromise).

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