Sunday Commentary: Local DAPL Protest Sign of Things to Come

DHS Police Officer interactions with a protester
DHS Police Officer interactions with a protester

It was a far cry from the aggressive law enforcement tactics at Standing Rock itself, but it was a strange and ominous sign on the local front.

On Tuesday, the Vanguard was on Second Street in Davis covering a local protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline.  A modest-sized crowd of perhaps 100 people gathered outside the building that houses the Army Corps of Engineers, when I saw a police vehicle pull up.

I was a little perplexed by the vehicle as it was not one I had seen before and it was only when I walked up to it that I realized it was a police vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security.

Without going too “conspiracy theory” here, the thing that struck me about the officer was how odd it was.  He walked to people in the back of the protest and demanded to know who had organized it.  Why you would walk to the back of the protest to ask such a question is odd – since you would expect people in the back to be the least involved.

He questioned a number of people – more intimidating in his demeanor than his words – and eventually stood to the side and, when the protesters began to march, he left.

Experienced protesters and longtime community members were shaken and shaking their heads.  All of them were wondering what that was all about.

Compare that to the actions of the local police.  They only arrived when the protesters encircled the intersection of E and 2nd Streets.  Even then, they hung back at least 50 feet, giving the protesters their space to do their thing.

DHS Police Vehicle
DHS Police Vehicle

The only time the local police engaged was when a car drove up to the circle and honked its horn repeatedly as though the protesters were going to move.  The police calmly approached the motorist and convinced him to make a u-turn and continue to his destination through an alternative route.

The protesters would eventually finish and leave without incident.

Is the action of DHS Police a sign of things to come, as protesters increase their activity outside of Standing Rock?

The local police at Standing Rock, even before the new president has taken office, in the last few months have engaged in escalation tactics with the protesters.  An early October communication from the ACLU noted, “And for the past six weeks…   the Morton County Sheriff’s Office has dramatically increased its surveillance of the gathering, militarized the county, and taken action to suppress the religious expression of the indigenous people gathered at Sacred Stone.”

They noted “the use of surveillance, military-style force, and religious oppression.”


“In mid-August, Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a state of emergency for southwest and central south North Dakota in response to actions taken by the water protectors. Despite the governor’s and the local sheriff’s verbal commitment to allowing constitutionally protected lawful protest, the result of the state of emergency has been a vast suppression of the right to protest and a dramatic increase in police surveillance around — and above — the camp,” the ACLU noted.

By late October the stand off actually heated up as protesters indicated they would not back down.  Police in riot gear would face off with protesters.  There were mass arrests.  “Tensions are so high that Amnesty International is sending representatives to monitor the arrests,” CNN would report.

It is important to note that these clashes came under the Obama administration.  This past week, the Obama administration announced it would withhold a final permit for completion of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline while it conducts further analysis of concerns that the project will damage sacred tribal sites and water supplies.

But this may be only a temporary victory as the pipeline company’s CEO said to the media last week that the incoming Donald Trump administration will ensure completion of the pipeline.

“I’m 100 percent sure that the pipeline will be approved by a Trump administration,” CEO Kelcy Warren of Energy Transfer Partners — the Dallas-based company funding the $3.7 billion project — told NBC News. “I believe we will have a government in place that believes in energy infrastructure.”

Not only could a new Trump administration change the federal government’s priorities and handling of this sensitive protest, they could also change the way the federal government is used to suppress protesters who aim to block the completion of the pipeline.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how DHS interacts with the protesters.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    Although I find no solace in the actions of the DHS, I do want to convey the confidence that I have in the Davis Police Department under the leadership of Chief Pytel. I first became aware of then Officer Pytel during the pepper spray incident on campus. Because of my fascination with this incident, I watched many hours of footage of the events of that day. While the events of the pepper spray line itself have been watched by millions, I believe that many fewer are likely to be familiar with the actions of Officer Pytel on that day.  One clip in particular showed Officer Pytel moving through a group of protesters and onlookers in a calm and even friendly manner, gently guiding people into positions where they were less obstructive of police activities. He demonstrated every aspect of policing that could have been chosen, but was not by the campus police officer who actually instigated the spraying.

    On that day, now Chief Pytel exemplified the role of a calm, reasonable police officer guiding the community in a manner most conducive to the safety of protestors, onlookers, and police alike. It encourages me to have such an example of policing at the head of our local department, and can only hope that across our country their are thousands of chiefs who view policing as does Chief Pytel as seen through his actions.

      1. hpierce

        Let’s see… an individual charged with protecting the property rented to the US government, and its employees working there, none of whom probably had any direct involvement in the permitting of the pipeline, decides it is better to try to figure out if there is a real threat, or just an inconvenience/annoyance, and instead of confronting the leaders, given the “surveillance” by a photographer/blogger, talks to the folk in back.

        Sounds pretty “1984” to me… the DHS guy should be charged, and imprisoned preferably LWOP. Obama should be impeached for letting this happen.

    1. Alan Miller

      Tia, agree!  From all accounts the actions of City police at the Pepper Spray incident were reasonable, while it was the UCD Police that lost their minds (likely under orders).  I believe that under Carmichael the culture at UCDPD was vastly altered.

  2. Tia Will


    What did the DHS officer do that was so outrageous?”

    I don’t know since I wasn’t there that anything “outrageous” was done, nor did I make any such claim. I do not find solace in the thought that the DHS would feel the need to take any action whatsoever with regard to such a small and obviously peaceful demonstration. And I find it even less comforting that the DHS would want to identify the leadership of such a protest.


        1. Tia Will


          If he had done anything that out of line do you not think that David would’ve been all over it?”

          Precisely. I believe that what David did report on was either “out of line” or a least questionable. I think that may have been exactly why David did report on it, although of course I cannot speak for David.

      1. Tia Will

        No disconnect.
        I am using the current reporting on the Vanguard including pictures as my basis of information. Surely you would not suggest that we do not know that a documented peaceful protest such as the Washington event at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech was peaceful because we were not there. Would you ?

        Unlike the pictures of the protestors and an accounting of their actions, the specific questions of the DHS officer and whom he actually questioned are not documented, therefore I could not speak to those as I stated.

        1. hpierce

          OK… the DHS guy was “in real time”… easy to say that the outcome of any football game was obvious, a few days later… except to the players on the field, at the time.

  3. Alan Miller

    I do find the actions of the officer odd.  And I’m OK with DG reporting on this.  After the Pepper Spray incident it is clear that horrible and ridiculous things can and do happen with armed authority, in Davis.

    DG did go before the Council last week and report the incident during public comment.  And I was like “don’t say it, don’t say it” — and he said it, he implied that the behavior of the officer could be tied in to the recent election.  Um, last I looked, everything that has happened at Standing Rock is under Obama, and the DHS still has Obama as the boss.

    Oh, you could say the officer was “emboldened”, knowing who his boss will be next year, but a week after the election, that’s a stretch.


  4. Barack Palin

    Oh, you could say the officer was “emboldened”, knowing who his boss will be next year, but a week after the election, that’s a stretch.

    Democrats are already blaming Trump for everything and he still doesn’t take office for another 2 months.

    1. South of Davis

      BP wrote:

      > Democrats are already blaming Trump for everything and

      > he still doesn’t take office for another 2 months.

      Look on the bright side they will finally stop blaming Bush for every problem in America…

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