Police have beaten, harassed, and strip-searched activists and even confiscated sacred Native American drums, a civil liberties group reports.
STANDING ROCK SIOUX RESERVATION, North Dakota — As reports of police abuse at Dakota Access Pipeline protests accumulate, a civil liberties NGO warns that activists’ constitutional rights are under attack.
“In Standing Rock, the cops are out of control,” warned Cooper Brinson, staff attorney at Civil Liberties Defense Center, in a report published on Thursday.
Citing reports of humiliation, beatings by police, and unnecessary strip-searches of arrestees, Brinson wrote:
“The actions of police against the land and water protectors at Standing Rock are depraved, abusive, and disgraceful. They are exceedingly disrespectful and radically humiliating to the people who have occupied this land since time immemorial.”
Brinson reported that police have confiscated sacred tribal drums and tools used by Native American journalists.
On Oct. 17, a North Dakota judge dismissed criminal charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman, but several journalists still face charges for reporting on Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Four members of the Unicorn Riot media collective are charged with misdemeanors, and three other journalists are facing felony charges, including Emmy-winning documentarian Deia Schlosberg, who could receive a maximum penalty of 45 years behind bars on three felony charges.
Watch “Why Is North Dakota Strip Searching Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Charged With Misdemeanors?:”
Construction on the $3.8 billion pipeline continues, but so do protests along its 143-mile path. Brinson wrote that his organization had counted a total of 150 arrests in North Dakota, but dozens more have occurred in other states. Militarized police, often wearing riot armor, have become commonplace at protests and direct actions.
In one incident on Oct. 17, five Native American anti-pipeline activists, who prefer to be referred to as “water protectors” rather than protesters, were surrounded by dozens of heavily armed police and threatened with arrest for the “crime” of praying by the side of a road.
Arrestees in North Dakota have also reported routine strip-searches, even when they are only charged with misdemeanors. On Tuesday, Goodman interviewed two water protectors who had been strip-searched, Dave Archambault II, tribal chair of the Standing Rock Sioux, and Dr. Sara Jumping Eagle, a pediatrician and member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.
Jumping Eagle recalled spending several hours in jail, and noted that her family was unable to find her for some of that time. She compared her treatment to the historic mistreatment of her Native American ancestors:
“It made me feel—you know, it made me think about my ancestors and what had they gone through. And this was in no way a comparison to what we’ve survived before, so just made me feel more determined about what I’m doing and why I’m here.”
“Never did it cross my mind that while trying to protect clean water, trying to ensure a future where our children have access to an element essential for human survival, would I be strip-searched. I was just shocked.”
In an editorial published Thursday by Time magazine, Woodley noted that she doesn’t feel it should take the arrest of a white celebrity to bring attention to the Native Americans’ “ignored” struggle against the pipeline. She wrote:
“I was in North Dakota, standing side by side with Native Americans.
You know, those who were here before us.
Well, guess what, America? They’re still here.
And they are still fighting the good fight. A fight that serves each and every one of us.”
Woodley stressed that the stakes in fighting climate change are nothing less than the survival of the planet and the human species. “Whatever you care about most… none of your efforts or hard-earned opinions will matter when the planet and the people you’re fighting for have nothing left to show for it,” she wrote.
She concluded by urging everyone to get involved in the struggle to keep fossil fuels in the ground:
“Simply feeding off the hype of a celebrity’s arrest ain’t going to save the world. But, standing together will. Please stand in solidarity with the Sioux people of Standing Rock Reservation to ensure that we still have rivers to swim in, springs to drink from and lakes to float on. Will you join us?”