This weekend, protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline escalated into a violent standoff between demonstrators and police. On Sunday afternoon, the peaceful “water protectors” attempted to move a barricade set up by police on the Highway 1806 bridge. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department, along with National Guard soldiers, responded by firing rubber bullets at close range, bombarding the protestors with tear gas bombs and concussion grenades, and shooting water cannons into the crowd in sub-freezing weather.
The Standing Rock council reports that volunteer medics identified approximately 300 people hurt due to the use of excessive police force. Injuries include hypothermia, severe reactions to pepper spray and tear gas, and blunt force trauma from the “non-lethal” projectiles used in the attack. Though hundreds of people were affected by the attack, 26 were seriously injured enough to require evacuation to nearby hospitals.
Some of those requiring emergency medical care include a man who experienced a grand mal seizure, an elder who lost consciousness and had to be revived, a man left with internal bleeding from the impact of a rubber bullet, another suffering an injury near his spine, and multiple reports of bone fractures. One organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network told the media that there was even a victim who suffered a heart attack as a result of the violence.
Despite the horrifying nature of these attacks, mainstream media outlets appear to be more or less absent from the scene of the demonstrations. Most of what we know about the clash with the police comes from inside Standing Rock itself. Protesters streamed live video on Facebook (viewable here and here) to get the word out as events were happening – there’s also been done footage and some firsthand accounts and photos from the site. It seems reporting on Trump’s tweets about Broadway musicals and Saturday Night Live was more interesting for reporters than covering acts of blatant police brutality.
The authorities, meanwhile, have defended their decision to douse protesters in 25-degree water, claiming that they pulled out the hoses (not cannons) in order to put out dangerous fires set by the protestors. The protesters disagree with this timeline, saying that the fires were only set after demonstrators had been hit with blasts of freezing water, in an attempt to prevent them from succumbing to hypothermia.
There is some good news to come out of the protests, however – the public has rallied behind the Standing Rock Sioux, which has actually convinced Norway’s largest bank to pull its support for the pipeline project.