City leaders, law enforcement, state residents have had enough; Standing Rock and supporters say they’re already home
By C.S. Hagen
BISMARCK – The day before President Obama pardoned the Thanksgiving Turkey, Peace Garden State leaders told Standing Rock and the tribe’s supporters that North Dakota has had enough.
“It’s time for them to go home,” Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary said to the activists camped outside of Standing Rock. “I thank the visitors for coming, making their message known. It’s loud and clear… It has been profound, and we understand. No more productive messaging can really be done, you’ve said everything that needs to be said…
“It’s now time for them to go home.”
Seminary added that law enforcement involved in the DAPL controversy was doing an “incredible job,” and thanked those that make the city of Bismarck run.
“I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday,” Seminary said. “God bless you.”
Those camped out at Oceti Sakowin are frightened. Many come from across the nation to protect the Missouri River against the USD 3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. Arrests are mounting, totaling 528 by Wednesday afternoon. Local anger against Standing Rock and its stance against the pipeline is spilling into metropolitan streets as pro-DAPL protesters gather wherever activists go. The capitol building has been repeatedly shut down. Roads have been closed. Alerts follow activists’ movements on resident cell phones.
Activists say they’re being harassed. Law enforcement say they’re experiencing “doxing,” a practice of identifying and releasing police identities to the public.
Law enforcement reported they felt threatened Sunday night, standing behind cement blocks and multiple rolls of razor wire, and were forced to use water cannons and hoses on activists. Supporters of Standing Rock said they were gathered in prayer, that they started no fires except for those made to keep warm.
Anger is rising across the area, fierce and cold as the north winter wind. Despite tribal elders call for peaceful demonstration and civil disobedience, violence is escalating.
Monday night, Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney and Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler called activists Liz George, 26, and Kana Newell, 23, over to their table while they were eating at the Chinese restaurant Rice Bowl, according to George.
After a brief conversation, both Laney and Ziegler ordered the two women out of the restaurant, and threatened to arrest them both for disorderly conduct, according to video footage.
George wasn’t worried when she approached the two police chiefs, she said. “We thought we’d say hi, show them that we are peaceful and not the image they have and then leave,” George said. “But they also called out to us on our way out so it would have been rude for me to just ignore and walk out.”
George’s ancestry is from India, and she is from Michigan, and Newell is from Japan. They’re proud women of color, and have become friends at Oceti Sakowin, frequently going on actions together. They both were on the front lines Sunday night when law enforcement turned water cannons on the activists in sub-freezing temperatures.
Newell was hit by the water, and by a percussion grenade, which exploded in the air above her, knocking her to the ground. Both breathed in CS gas, and Newell is still coughing.
“I didn’t think so much about the water, all I thought about was holding up this line,” Newell said. “We had to hold that line to protect the people behind us.” Eventually, the cold numbed her fingers and toes; her hair froze. Friends had to help her change out of her clothes.
And then she returned to the front line.
The next night, Newell and George traveled into Mandan to eat Chinese food.
“We didn’t go into that restaurant to pick a fight,” Newell said. “We went in to have a meal, and heal and laugh a little bit.”
Laney called out to them as they were leaving, George said, and he was friendly, at first. His tone changed quickly. Two gentlemen at a nearby table were called over to join the conversation, but the two women could not talk above Laney’s voice, George said.
“He was trying to make an example out of us,” George said. “I think the reason we were mistreated was because, yes, we are women of color, but also because of the Water is Life badge. And that made me think, yes, I can take that badge off, but native men and black men cannot ever take theirs off.”
“If we had not worn that badge we probably would not have been targeted,” Newell said. “It’s a lot to process.”
Neither woman had experienced police intimidation before coming to Standing Rock, they said. Now, it’s difficult to sleep. George jumps whenever she hears a loud noise. She pulls out her cell phone as protocol when police approach.
“It’s an unjust use of power, and the law sort of allows it,” Newell said. “What does disorderly conduct really mean? The police get to decide, and that leaves us powerless.”
Both women are frightened, and they’re not going to wear their Water is Life badges when going into town in the future. On Wednesday, during an action in Bismarck, different police confronted the two women when the vehicle they were riding in failed to properly signal a right turn.
George was sitting in the back seat and took her seat belt off after the car was put in park, she said. Officers then threatened to arrest her for failure to wear a seatbelt, she said.
“They’re basically intimidating us, they’re forcing me to give them my ID, which I didn’t want to give to him,” George said. “I asked them to bring a couple more officers over. We’re surrounded by cops, and they are indiscriminately pulling people over for nothing, and basically fabricating charges.”
North Dakota’s seat belt laws say that all front seat occupants must be buckled up; anyone younger than 18 must be properly restrained no matter where they sit, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol, but the law states no requirement for those older than 18 in the backseat.
“They’re using pure intimidation tactics on us,” Newell said. She sat in the backseat of the car with George.
“It’s only against us,” George said. “There are a lot of pro DAPL protesters out here, and none of them are affected by anything. This is the second day in a row that we’ve been harassed and intimidated by police in Bismarck and Mandan. I’m just kind of shaken up; it’s the second time this has happened to us. It’s ridiculous, but it’s almost funny what they’re doing out here. The charges they’re putting against us are humorous because of how false there are.”
“We know our rights,” Newell said.
An officer returned and issued three citations: failure to use proper turn signal, failure to use seatbelts, and failure to have a clean license plate. Fines for the citations totaled USD 60.
Laney is a Cass County hero, according to his police biography. Originally from rural Cass County, near Horace, he served four years in the Marine Corps before becoming a Fargo police officer. He served as a lieutenant and commander of the Red River Valley SWAT Team, and was sworn in as Cass County Sheriff in 2007. He is president of the North Dakota Sheriff’s and Deputies Association, serves on the board of directors for the North Dakota Association of Counties. Laney is decorated, heavily, including the 2011 winner of the “Government Leader of the Year” award and in 2012 the “National Sheriff of the Year” award.
He has also been serving as Morton County Sheriff’s Department operations chief since mid August.
Ziegler is not from North Dakota, but is also a former Marine who served during the Gulf War. While in the Marine Corps he earned the rank of a corporal, and later became a lieutenant in the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in Florida He was named Mandan’s police chief in 2015.
Both Laney and Ziegler, their offices, the departments’ public information officers were contacted for comment.
“This is the absolute first I’ve ever heard of this,” Cass County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Kim Briggeman said.
“There’s another underlying story here and it goes further than the racism,” Tom Asbridge, a Morton County resident said. “If the two ladies at the Rice Bowl in Mandan were doing something out of line, then that’s a whole different thing, but there is no evidence of that. There is evidence that those two cops were abusive. Don’t you think it would have been much more prudent and wise to make friends of them and try to smile and say ‘hey, what can we do?’ Then it puts the onus on the two ladies. We don’t need to have people on police force acting like jerks.”
Asbridge ran for representative of District 30 this year, but lost, as he feels his viewpoints on issues including DAPL are in the minority in the Peace Garden State. He grew up near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, knows the area well, including Backwater Bridge, which authorities have deemed unsafe.
“Its subhuman, and there’s some profit motive going on, because there’s some other corruption beneath this, and nobody will touch it. It seems to me that if someone would lance this boil… I think there would be an element of goodness here in North Dakota that would just say ‘No, we don’t believe in this, we won’t put up with this kind of treatment by the people who are working for us.’
“But if there’s no story, if there’s no journalism here to report this, it will remain secret.”
Asbridge has been an “advocate for justice” for many years, he said, and he fears for Standing Rock.
“I think there is way more baiting by Morton County to induce bad stuff than one can imagine. Things don’t quite add up.”
Punishing Standing Rock
Asbridge says he calls Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier’s bluff that Backwater Bridge, the epicenter of much of the recent violence, is unsafe.
“That’s a really great concrete bridge and it’s not very old. You’re not going to hurt that bridge by burning a few tires, some trash and logs on the bridge. They made that up. If it is unsafe why hasn’t the Department of Transportation been there with some people observing them? I would want to cover my proverbial butt; the bridge is not unsafe… I think it contains the natives where they are.”
“North Dakota Department of Transportation has closed the Backwater Bridge due to damage caused after protesters set numerous fires on the bridge October 27,” Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported. Department of Transportation cannot inspect the bridge until law enforcement knows the area is safe, Kirchmeier said in a press conference.
Additionally, the best way to “punish Standing Rock is to shut down their economy,” Asbridge said. Shutting down Highway 1806 is putting the financial clamp on the tribe’s casino, Prairie Knights. “That’s their big source of revenue, and they’ve accomplished that.”
Once again, Morton County officials disagree. Shutting down Highway 1806, effectively turning Backwater Bridge into a war zone, was to protect against confrontations between activists and DAPL workers, Morton County Sheriff’s Department reported.
“This is some sophisticated people that are maneuvering, and manipulating, there are strings coming from higher up, and I think the governor is being manipulated by those same strings,” Asbridge said.
If someone challenged Governor Jack Dalrymple’s emergency declaration in court, Asbridge believes they would win. “There is no emergency. The linchpin was the use of the emergency, the use of the National Guard, the excessive use of the police, the law enforcement from all over the country. This is a feeding frenzy. This isn’t healthy to have a militarized police force doing this.”
Asbridge calls for federal intervention, because the state is biased.
“Take it out of the hands of the local people who are obviously biased and settle this dispute.”
In the meantime, Standing Rock and supporters have the right to be upset, Asbridge said. When the pipeline’s route was moved north of Bismarck to its current location less than a mile away from Standing Rock Sioux reservation, it was the spark that lit the native fire that has gathered thousands of supporters and more than 400 tribes from around the world.
“This is the eruption of 500 years of abuse, and they’ve finally taken a stand and said this is it. Whether they’re right in everything or not, I’m not sure it is as important. If you check, not one treaty with Standing Rock has ever been kept. Not one. And as a white American, that’s shameful.
“I don’t anticipate that this is not going to come to a very good end. The natives have lost the public sentiment. The media and the police have done such a good job of spreading disinformation, they’re very organized, and they’re good at it. And that’s too bad.”
Asbridge stood with attorney Chase Iron Eyes and others in Bismarck in September before elections to make a plea to move the pipeline, and create an oil refinery west of Mandan. Bakken oil, utilizing a public utility – which is what the Dakota Access Pipeline is supposed to be – must benefit the American people, and not line the deep pockets of an out-of-state company and executives.
“We should discuss whether one drop of that oil will be burned in the United States,” Asbridge said. “It’s all for export. If this was about American energy independence, I would be on the side of the pipeline. But it’s not. It actually makes us more dependent on Saudi oil, and causes more bloodshed by Americans to protect Saudi oil. Our sons and daughters are going to war over there, and we’re going to ship that oil to China. That’s bad policy.”
The necessity of the pipeline is a moot point; local railroad companies can ship all the oil coming out of the Bakken, Asbridge said.
The Dakota Access Pipeline is 1,172 miles long, and is supposed to finish before the end of 2016, according to Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren. The drill pad to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe is ready; horizontal drilling equipment has been brought in, but the company lacks the easement it needs from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Dakota Access LLC is the subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, which combined with Sunoco Logistics Partners on Monday. Energy Transfer Equity controls both companies, according to media outlet Fortune.
On Wednesday, the North Dakota Industrial Commission called for better monitoring and higher standards of pipelines that cross major bodies of waters after nearly 3 million gallons of brine spilled north of Williston. A newly-introduced Senate bill also states that the legislative management must consider studying technology that may be used on pipelines to detect or prevent leaks.
While the state legislature decides on a bill that may prove too little too late, George and Newell worry that law enforcement may sometime soon use live ammunition against activists.
“We’re scared for our people,” Newell said. She recently obtained a bachelors degree in zoology and marine science. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, this is just us processing all this.”
“I can’t even imagine what it is like to be an indigenous person in this community, regardless to what happens with the pipeline,” George said. “All we’ve heard in camp is the message of peace, and non-violence. It feels like home.”