New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is calling for the Department of Justice to ‘promptly and thoroughly’ investigate reports of brutal and abusive police tactics employed against peaceful water protectors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy A.G. Vanita Gupta, Booker demanded an end to silence from the federal government in the matter, after myriad reports of injuries — some heinous — and possible abuse by jailers of those arrested.
“I write to urge your immediate attention to the ongoing situation at the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation in North Dakota, which has produced conflicting reports by law enforcement, protestors, and the media regarding the appropriate use of police tactics,” the senator wrote.
Booker is the first federal politician to solicit tangible action from President Obama’s administration — which has thus far remained astonishingly tight-lipped, despite alarming video footage from several brutal crackdowns on the unarmed water protectors by a nine-state coalition of law enforcement.
“I am deeply troubled by this tense situation,” Booker wrote, “and particularly by reports indicating that law enforcement may be responding to peaceful protestors near Standing Rock with overly aggressive tactics. According to press reports, local police and private security agents have used disproportionate measures to suppress protestors, including firing bean bag rounds, tear gas, compression grenades, and using mace.”
Booker also noted the indiscriminate deployment of vicious dogs against a peaceful gathering, in which six people, including a child, suffered bites, as well as the use of water cannons in “freezing temperatures” against a crowd of 400 on November 20.
But the senator also addressed an issue of serious concern — demeaning, debasing, and abusive treatment of detainees by local jailers.
“I am also concerned by reports of unconstitutional conditions of confinement,” Booker continued. “Press reports indicate that protestors have been held in overcrowded cages, akin to dog kennels, on bare concrete floors without access to medical care. There are also reports that protestors have been marked with numbers, which is degrading and inhumane.”
Indeed, shocked and furious water protectors reported being detained in what appeared to be an actual dog kennel, and each had been marked with numbers on the forearms — ostensibly for the sake of expedience. Arrestees, however, felt the practice eerily similar to dehumanizing tactics employed during Nazi Germany.
“It goes back to concentration camp days,” asserted Oceti Sakowin coordinator Mekasi Camp-Horinek, who, along with his mother, was detained in one of the wire kennels, reported the Los Angeles Times.
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Indigenous water protectors have additionally reported being forced to undo braids, which are considered sacred, as officers claim they could conceal weapons, and police have reportedly strip-searched detainees.
In fact, the sheer volume of anecdotal, video, and photographic evidence cataloguing abusive, barbarous, savage, dangerous, brutal, debasing treatment of hundreds of water protectors evinces an ignominious compendium of human rights abuse by law enforcement acting in defense of a private corporation — rather than in the interest of public safety.
Senator Cory Booker’s call for both DOJ monitors on site and a comprehensive, independent investigation — though needed long before now — is most welcome, even at this late hour.
“In addition to the deployment of monitors, I write to request that DOJ open a civil rights investigation into whether appropriate police tactics were used at Standing Rock, as well as the allegations of unlawful arrests and mistreatment in jail of protestors by private security and the Morton County, North Dakota Police Department during this protest.”
On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a notice of eviction to encampments north of the Cannonball River as of December 5; and although a clarification indicated this would not be a forceful action — that anyone remaining in the camps would be subject to citation and other legal action — logistics of citing more than 5,000 people were not made clear.
Further, as a winter storm advanced on the area, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple issued a mandatory evacuation order for everyone occupying Army Corps-managed lands. Although it is widely believed the governor’s order would be supplanted by the Corps’, the legal community is scrambling to parse out the precise ramifications.
Meanwhile, despite the closure of public access to the area — whether now in place by the governor or set to take effect on December 5 — thousands of U.S. military veterans will arrive on December 4 to defend water protectors in their peaceful opposition to the pipeline.
With all of this chaos and violence and confusion — and appalling lack of action by the federal government — Standing Rock Sioux water protectors and their supporters remain steadfast and prepared to endure the bitter winter.
Perhaps Booker’s call for oversight and investigation by the DOJ may finally give the peaceful, prayerful water protectors a shred of the justice they desperately deserve.