USA: Police use force against indigenous "water protectors" opposing Dakota Access Pipeline - human rights groups urge demilitarisation of police response

On 21 November, "water protectors" from indigenous groups including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, attempted to remove burned vehicles from a bridge near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction site that they had been protesting.  The vehicles blocked the ability of emergency services to reach the protest camp, according to Standing Rock Sioux representatives and others.  In sub-freezing temperatures, police responded with high-pressure water hoses, as well as rubber bullets and tear gas, resulting in numerous injuries.  The American Civil Liberties Union urged the US Government to take steps to "demilitarize" the police response to non-violent protesters.  Amnesty International USA wrote to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department to convey its concern regarding the use of force by the department, and warned that "inappropriate or excessive police interventions can actually lead to violence and disorder rather than reducing tensions".  Full information about the current protests, police response, and human rights concerns, are below.

Previous information about indigenous groups' protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, their concerns over environmental and cultural impacts, defense of the construction and route by the pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners, and the police response:

Native American groups protest North Dakota pipeline construction over environmental concerns; protesters must be able to access area, demonstrate -Amnesty Intl., Aug-Sep 2016

Police remove native "water protectors" from Dakota Access Pipeline; Amnesty Intl. sends monitors, companies warned of possible liability, Oct 2016

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Article
21 November 2016

Amnesty International USA Derides ND for Subfreezing Water Onslaught

Author: Indian Country Today (USA)

In the wake of a night of the latest onslaught by militarized police against unarmed water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), Amnesty International is sending its fourth delegation out to Standing Rock since August... 

“Videos uploaded to social media from 20 November show officers using tear gas and water cannons against protesters,” wrote Amnesty International USA Executive Director Margaret Huang
in a letter to Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier 
of the Morton County, ND, Sheriff’s Department. “Reports indicate that rubber bullets were also used to disperse the crowds...” The water cannons especially were dangerous, as the weather was way below freezing, with wind chill making it feel even colder, Amnesty pointed out, noting also that the measures were used “just two days after MCSD issued a press release instructing protesters camped out in the multiple protest camps to refrain from building permanent structures on Army Corps of Engineers’ land and to seek shelter from the upcoming harsh winter weather.”...

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the actions were initiated after his office received reports that protectors were “acting very aggressively toward police,” Kirchmeier told reporters at a press conference on Monday afternoon, “increasing in their aggressiveness and their actions related to this protest.”... Amnesty was not convinced.

“While the use of the water cannon may have been necessary to extinguish any fires set to the grasses alongside the bridge, the use of those water cannons against the protesters themselves risks potential injury and hypothermia...,” Huang said in the letter. “...Any use of force—such as the water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets—by law enforcement officers must be necessary and proportionate to the threat posed.”... “The U.S. government is obligated under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of indigenous people, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” the letter read. “It is the legitimate right of people to peacefully express their opinion. Public assemblies should not be considered as the ‘enemy.’ The command hierarchy must convey a clear message to law enforcement officials that their task is to facilitate and not to restrict a peaceful public assembly. “ 

[full letter from Amnesty Intl. USA to Morton County Sheriff's Department]

[Amnesty Intl. USA action: Protect Human Rights at Standing Rock]

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Article
21 November 2016

Dakota Pipeline: Protesters Soaked With Water in Freezing Temperatures

Author: Tim Stelloh, Molly Roecker, Chiara Sottile & Daniel A. Medina, NBC News (USA)

Linda Black Elk, a member of the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council of the Catawba tribe, said..."Last night was a really critical life or death situation"... Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II told NBC News that between 200-300 people were transported late Sunday night to a gymnasium on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation for treatment for hypothermia, facial and hand wounds, and other minor injuries... 

Protestors say that the clashes began when they tried to remove a roadblock on a bridge north of their Oceti Sakowin "Water Protector" Camp. The roadblock...has blocked the main route to the city of Bismarck since late October. "The negotiation from law enforcement stated that they were going to remove them for their emergency services to get through ... to Bismarck. It's been 2.5 weeks, maybe 3, and they still haven't kept their word on that," said E'sha Hoferer... Black Elk said the roadblock was an inconvenience and posed a risk for emergency personnel trying to access the protest camp...

Sheriff's spokesman Rob Keller told NBC News that...water was sprayed from a fire truck to control fires as they were being set by activists. However, video posted to Facebook by activists clearly showed authorities spray a continuous stream of water over demonstrators in areas where there were no fires...

[The] Standing Rock Sioux Tribe argues that the proposed pipeline could permanently contaminate its water source, the Missouri River, as well as desecrate sacred sites. Energy Transfer Partners, which is behind the pipeline, has said that it has taken measures to prevent such leaks and that the pipeline is far safer than transporting oil with trucks or trains. 

[Video of police response to protesters]

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Item
21 November 2016

Demilitarize Standing Rock

Author: American Civil Liberties Union (USA)

In below freezing weather last night, law enforcement deployed tear gas, water cannons, percussion grenades, and rubber bullets against hundreds protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. News reports confirm over 160 people have been injured. Tell the DOJ to investigate and demilitarize police responses to nonviolent #NoDAPL water protectors.

Right now on a North Dakota prairie, nonviolent protesters are being confronted by police in riot gear with armored military vehicles, automatic rifles, sonic weapons, concussion grenades, attack dogs, pepper spray, and beanbag bullets. This sovereign nation of the Standing Rock Sioux – one of many constantly threatened by environmental injustice – is fighting to keep its water safe and clean by means of an historic protest. But law enforcement agencies are treating them like wartime enemies. Riot police raiding a protest camp even yanked indigenous people from prayer in sweat lodges...

The Department of Justice can help stop this militarized response to indigenous activists and their allies fighting for clean water. It oversees the various federal programs that may have supplied much of the equipment being used against protesters – and it can put those oversight measures to use... The pipeline could destroy ancestral burial grounds and poison the water supply for an entire sovereign nation and millions of Americans downstream who rely on the Missouri River. This is worth standing up for – these brutal police tactics are not appropriate or just.  Tell the DOJ to investigate possible constitutional violations and suspend police use of federally supplied military equipment.

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Article
21 November 2016

Facebook live video of police response to Dakota Access Pipeline protests

Author: Unicorn Riot (USA)

Police are tear gassing #NoDAPL water protectors, using the LRAD, stinger grenades, and firing less-lethal rounds into the crowd on Highway 1806 bridge in North Dakota. Multiple reports of serious injuries, including one person who was badly injured after being shot in the head with a rubber bullet. 150+ water protectors injured in the last few hours. A 13 yr old girl was reported to had been shot in the face by police, many have lung and eye irritation from tear gas and mace, one person reported to be in critical condition, multiple reports of cardiac arrests, many water protectors are fighting hypothermia after being sprayed with water by police, and many have wounds from rubber bullets. 

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Article
21 November 2016

Police Attack Unarmed Water Protectors w/ Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas, and Water Cannons; 160+ injured

Author: Unicorn Riot (USA)

Water protectors attempting to clear two damaged military trucks from Highway 1806 were met with a militarized response by law enforcement working to ensure the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Police used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, concussion grenades, and more crowd control munitions (e.g. hereherehere, & here).

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Article
21 November 2016

Police defend use of water cannons on Dakota Access protesters in freezing weather

Author: Derek Hawkins, Washington Post (USA)

Tensions over the Dakota Access oil pipeline flared again Sunday when North Dakota law enforcement used water cannons to disperse a group of about 400 protesters trying to move past a barricaded bridge toward construction sites for the project. As temperatures in Cannon Ball, N.D., dropped into the 20s, police in riot gear sprayed activists with a hose mounted atop an armored vehicle...according to the Bismarck Tribune... A grainy Facebook Live video from the scene shows...a haze of smoke and water vapor rising near police vehicles.

...[P]rotesters tried to remove burned-out trucks that had been blocking the bridge... Police have [also]...set up wire and concrete barriers on the bridge, which is about a mile south of where the pipeline developer plans to drill. Protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” have argued that the barricade prevents emergency services from reaching the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and a nearby camp they have used as a staging ground for demonstrations...

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said that by 8:30 p.m., an estimated 400 people had arrived to try to “breach” the bridge and had set dozens of fires in the area. The department called the situation an “ongoing riot”... One of the protest organizers, Dallas Goldtooth, said protesters started small fires in the area to help warm people who had been sprayed with water in the freezing cold...

...Physicians and tribal healers with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council called on authorities to stop using water cannons against the protesters, saying the below-freezing weather could cause hypothermia and criticizing the “potentially lethal use of these controversial methods against people peacefully assembled,” CNN reported... The Standing Rock Sioux argue that the pipeline...could pollute water and disrupt cultural sites... Energy Transfer Partners...says the pipeline transports oil more safely than trucks and will not harm sacred lands.

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Article
21 November 2016

Statement on use of force against water protectors protesting Dakota Access Pipeline

Author: Water Protector Legal Collective (USA)

The Water Protector Legal Collective is standing in solidarity with water protectors tonight at Oceti Sakowin Camp. We are shocked by Morton County's cowardice and total disregard for human life. Peaceful water protectors have been mercilessly sprayed with water cannons and mace, shot with rubber bullets, and subjected to tear gas in below freezing weather conditions for over 5 hours. Approximately 20 water protectors have been transported to the emergency room with serious injuries. One elder became unconscious at the front lines tonight and was revived by camp medics. Another young water protector had a seizure, but is in stable condition. We call on the federal government to respect its trust responsibility to Native Americans and stop these flagrant human and civil rights abuses.

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