Crime

Police Arrest 141 At North Dakota Pipeline Protest

| by Nik Bonopartis

Police arrested 141 people on Oct. 28 at the site of a long-running protest against an oil pipeline that runs through North Dakota.

The pipeline is a 1,172-mile, $3.8 billion project designed to transport crude oil from North Dakota to refineries in Paroka, Illinois. Construction is about 60 percent complete on the project, which designers say will be capable of transporting about 500,000 barrels of oil per day while cutting down on less efficient rail and truck transportation of crude oil.

But the pipeline runs within half a mile of land owned by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, whose leaders say the project could pollute nearby water and damage cultural resources -- sites that have religious or cultural importance to the tribe -- of the nearby reservation land, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court.

On Sept. 9, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said he "cannot concur" with the tribe's claims, and said records indicate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did its duty by consulting with the tribe, according to court documents.

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But the tribe still opposes the pipeline, and as Smithsonian Magazine noted, what began as a small protest earlier in 2016 has become a relatively large effort to block construction on the pipeline, with out-of-state protesters joining people from the area and swelling the protester encampment to more than 1,000 people. The tribe says there are more than 2,500 protesters total.

Police say people opposed to the pipeline have gone beyond protesting and are destroying property, putting lives at risk, and attaching themselves to equipment so construction crews cannot proceed with their work.

“The protesters are not being peaceful or prayerful," Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney wrote in a press release. "Law enforcement has been very methodical in moving ahead slowly as to not escalate the situation. However, the protesters are using very dangerous means to slow us down. Their aggressive tactics include using horses, fire and trying to flank us with horses and people.”

Tribal leaders responded by saying it's the police, not the protesters, who have escalated the situation.

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"Militarized law enforcement agencies moved in on water protectors with tanks and riot gear today," tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II told ABC News. "We have repeatedly seen a disproportionate response from law enforcement to water protectors’ nonviolent exercise of their constitutional rights. Today we have witnessed people praying in peace, yet attacked with pepper spray, rubber bullets, sound and concussion cannons."

Police confirmed they used a high-pitched sound device to disperse protesters as they arrested 141 others, and also confirmed the use of pepper spray and beanbags, CNN reported. Police also said at least two protesters used firearms, including one who opened fire "near" police. No one was hurt by the gunfire.

The confrontations between tribal leaders, protesters and police have drawn the interest of media, as well as celebrities and public figures.

"Avengers" actor Mark Ruffalo stopped by the protest encampment to show support, "Titantic" actor Leonardo DiCaprio has been tweeting about the conflict.

On Oct. 26, the Rev. Jesse Jackson toured the camp. He later put on a cowboy hat, climbed on a horse, and paraded in front of cameras as another protester led the reverend's horse by its bridle.

“That is just a dog-and-pony show,” 77-year-old Jim Kohler, a local mechanic, told The Seattle Times as he watched Jackson.

Kohler was one of several locals who expressed dismay at the swelling number of protesters, which has snarled local traffic and consumed police resources.

"Divergent" actress Shailene Woodley also joined the protesters and was arrested after local police charged her with trespassing and engaging in a riot, two misdemeanors, according to UPI.

"It took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on Oct 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples' Day, to bring this cause to many people's attention," Woodley wrote in a statement.

Sources: ABC News, CNN, The Seattle Times, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe vs U.S. Army Corps of Engineers / Photo credit: Little Redfeather Design via Indian Country Today

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