Today, thousands of military veterans arrived at the protest sites for the Dakota Access Pipeline to help protect the activists from the brutal police tactics allegedly being carried out against them.
On Monday, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) filed a lawsuit and restraining order against the Morton County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of the water protectors after more than 300 people were severely injured by police tactics last week alone.
The major clash occurred on the evening of November 20 after protesters attempted to remove a blockade that was keeping emergency vehicles from reaching one of the camps. In freezing temperatures, WPLC’s lawsuit alleges that police deployed the use of rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas on the protesters and bystanders without warning.
WPLC is asking for an immediate injunction preventing the Sheriff’s Department from using rubber bullets, lead filled “bean bags,” water cannons, hoses, and teargas against protesters.
Some of the plaintiffs in the case include: a woman who claims she was hit in the face with a teargas canister and informed by doctors that she could lose sight out of her eye; another woman who alleges she was fired on by a water cannon and received shrapnel injuries to her face from an exploding grenade; and a bystander who reported being hospitalized with broken bones after being fired upon with water cannons and rubber bullets while filming the confrontation.
In addition to the brutal repression tactics, hundreds have been arrested since the protests began this summer, some of them with false charges. Legal observers have also accused the police department of using their press releases and Facebook page to spread false information about the protesters.
This week the state of North Dakota ordered the protesters to vacate the land belonging to the US Army Corps of Engineers, citing concerns about the inclement weather conditions. They backed down from their threat on Wednesday, clarifying that they would not be actively enforcing that order. In response, the Standing Rock Sioux released a statement reading, “the Governor of North Dakota and Sheriff of Morton County are relative newcomers” to the land, “it is understandable they would be concerned about severe winter weather.” They added that the Tribe has survived “in this region for millennia without the concerns of state or county governments.”
For months, thousands of water protectors representing over 280 Tribes have been protesting the construction of the 1,200 mile oil Pipeline that would run under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, which is a major water supply for local ranches, the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The Pipeline would pass through the Tribe’s treaty lands, sacred sights and burial grounds, and a spill could contaminate the area’s water supply and pose a massive environmental, economic, cultural and public health threat to the Tribe.
The Pipeline was originally supposed to go through Bismark, but was moved after authorities worried an oil spill would contaminate the state capital’s drinking water.
The Army Corps of Engineers is still considering whether or not it will allow the Pipeline to proceed under the lake. Supporters across the county have called on the banks financing the project to divest.