Wednesday, November 02, 2016

And Justice For Some

Standing Rock protesters confront bulldozers
clearing land for the Dakota Access Pipeline
This morning University of North Dakota faculty member and journalist Mark Trahant and Native American activist Winona LaDuke were interviewed on The Brian Lehrer Show.

They shared updates from the front lines of the ongoing efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline from infringing on Native American sovereignty and land - and threatening their fresh water supply.

Something Flint, Michigan residents know a little about.

Despite efforts by the federal government, police and private interests to quash this protest, it's only growing.

This morning dozens of people were on hand inside Grand Central Terminal's cavernous main hall to chant and voice their support for the Standing Rock Sioux's quest to protect their water supply; adding to the already significant social media coverage.

In response to reports that law enforcement officials were trying to track individual protesters on Facebook, more than a million people across the globe have used Facebook's Check-In feature to falsely claim to be at the protest site in North Dakota to confuse online surveillance efforts.

The crackdown by authorities against unarmed people in North Dakota is a far cry from how police and federal agents responded to the heavily-armed militants who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in a remote area of Oregon last January.  

Ammon Bundy & the six co-defendants
who were acquitted in federal court
As you may have heard just last Thursday a  jury in federal court acquitted anti-government zealot brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy and five co-defendants of various charges related to their 41-day occupation.

One day later on Friday, about 1,260 miles away near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, heavily armed police in riot gear arrested at least 142 unarmed protesters demanding a halt to construction of a section of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline.

The $3.8 billion pipeline is slated to carry crude oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois, and a stretch of the pipeline will pass near a dam directly underneath a section of the Missouri River just half a mile upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

An accident or damage to that section of the pipeline could potentially threaten the fresh water supply of not just the Sioux, but to farms and other families all along the Missouri in that part of the state.

Read through Alexander Sammon's brief timeline of the Standing Rock Sioux's efforts to block the pipeline; posted on back on September 9th.

The Sioux Tribal Chairman in conjunction with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, followed established procedure in their efforts to demand that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) conduct an investigation to determine the archaeological significance of the section of Sioux land in question - land which the tribe considers sacred.

But repeated written requests were ignored and the USACE basically fast-tracked the permitting process for construction of the pipeline to proceed with virtually no significant environmental impact study - as Sammon reported "Permit 12" covers some 200 different sites covering four states over which the pipeline will pass.

A dog handler confronts protectors
on the weekend of Sept. 3rd
The efforts to block construction of the pipeline that began last summer eventually drew hundreds of members of indigenous tribes from all over the world, as well as thousands of people outraged over the federal government colluding with a private energy company in what some called the largest organized Native American protest in U.S. history.

They began calling themselves "protectors" instead of protestors in light of the fact that they were there to protect the drinking water supply.

But the peaceful opposition reached a violent head on the weekend of September 3rd when Dakota Access, LLC, the company building the pipeline, brought in private security contractors to protect bulldozers clearing land.

Cameras captured inexperienced handlers releasing attack dogs directly into crowds of unarmed people; a number of protectors were bitten, including a child.

The private security personnel also used mace on protesters who were upset over the bulldozers having plowed up swaths of what tribal members claim is a Sioux burial ground.

That scene was repeated last week when large numbers of police in body armor and helmets holding shields wielding long batons, supported by police in armored vehicles, helicopters and ATV's began trying to clear Native Americans from a large campground area; some of whom were on horseback.

Over the course of the Standing Rock protests over 400 people have been arrested.

Hundreds of unarmed indigenous people
engaged in non-violent opposition
Now if you compare the protests by the unarmed members of the Standing Rock Sioux and their indigenous brethren trying to block an oil pipeline from infringing on a natural water supply with Ammon Bundy's group of heavily armed militia members occupation of a federal wildlife refuge facility, there are some similarities.

Both groups were seeking rulings from the federal government related to the oversight of land.

The Sioux initially followed established legal procedure in their written response to the Corps of Engineers and requests for an independent environmental impact study and an investigation to determine if sections of land slated for pipeline construction were burial grounds.

Bundy and his heavily-armed posse of sovereign citizen militia members (most of whom don't even live in the remote Oregon community they occupied) took over a federal wildlife refuge based on a separate court case that had nothing to do with them, their own anti-government grievances and obscure interpretations of law and federal jurisdiction.

But the way in which law enforcement officials responded to the protests by both groups is a troubling example of the inherent bias within the the U.S. justice system based on race and ethnicity.

Ammon Bundy addresses the press during the
Oregon occupation 
Ammon Bundy, a hero of the sovereign citizen movement, has a history of violent confrontation with the federal government stretching back to his father's anti-government confrontations.

Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy's years of refusal to pay the government grazing fees for the large numbers of his cattle that he kept on federally owned land culminated in a standoff in April, 2014 that garnered national media attention.

In a move that reinforces the old adage "like father like son", on January 2, 2016 after speaking at a rally held in a Safeway parking lot in Burns, Oregon in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond, two men convicted and jailed for setting fire to federal land, Ammon Bundy and a group of armed militants drove to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and occupied a collection of buildings.

Their goal was to try to force the federal government to release the Hammonds from jail and also turn over the 187,757 acres of the wildlife refuge established by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908 to private citizens for "logging and recreational activities".

By the way the Hammonds had accepted their federal sentences for arson and voluntarily showed up to serve their time in jail - they also told the Bundys they didn't want their militia using their court case to justify the illegal occupation of the Malheur Refuge, but that didn't deter the Bundys.

One of Bundy's armed followers during the 
January occupation in Oregon
Their standoff generated global media attention and lasted for 41 days until Bundy and his brother were stopped by Oregon State Police while driving to speak at a local senior center and taken into custody.

But not before one of their followers, Robert "LaVoy" Finicum was shot and killed by police while reaching for a pistol after trying to flee the police stop.

So again, you compare the Bundy's occupation with the peaceful protests by the Sioux and the thousands of followers who've traveled to North Dakota to join them.

One group was heavily armed, the other brandish only signs in a show of nonviolence resistance.

Not only did Bundy's followers openly brandish their weapons in a manner that could be interpreted as threatening and hostile, they actually invited more people to bring their weapons and travel there to join them in an illegal occupation of a federal wildlife facility.

Bundy and his armed posse not only occupied federal property with demands that it be turned over to private citizens, they openly used language suggesting they were prepared for some kind of apocalyptic shoot-out with federal agents and also called for other armed individuals from around the country to bring weapons to the site and join the armed siege.

What did law enforcement do to move Bundy off the wildlife refuge?


Native American activist Winona LaDuke
They never stormed the buildings, they even let Bundy and some of his followers come and go as they pleased for much of the siege.

Meanwhile in North Dakota, unarmed protesters (including old women and children) have been maced, had attack dogs set on them, been beaten with batons, shot at with bean bag guns and been subjected to deafening noise designed to disperse crowds.

Over 400 have been arrested and jailed - some of them held in cages in a parking lot.

As Winona LaDuke said this morning during her interview, the efforts to protect the fresh water supply and prevent a large company from laying a crude oil pipeline over land granted to the Standing Rock Sioux by federal treaty isn't over.

Bundy and his armed followers have been acquitted of all charges, reinforcing the widely-held belief that the way law enforcement deals with Americans who occupy land depends less on whether they're armed and acting legally, or unarmed and acting peacefully - and more on their race and ethnicity.

In America some get justice, some get the business end of the stick.

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