Late Sunday evening, conflicts between law enforcement and water protectors at Standing Rock reached a new, more dangerous level when police pelted hundreds of protesters with water cannons, rubber bullets, mace, and other “non-lethal” weaponry.
At the time of the attack, water protectors were occupying a nearby bridge. Police claim that they were rioting and setting fires on the bridge, though these same police forces have been known to lie and mislead the public about what these mostly peaceful protesters are doing. It is likely that the extra fires were set by the tear gas canisters thrown by police.
As the attack occurred in the evening in increasingly chilled North Dakota, all those exposed to the water cannons were at risk for hypothermia in the sub-freezing temperatures. Police blockaded the protesters, trapping them on the bridge and dousing them in freezing water and tear gas.
As a result of the attack by law enforcement, 167 water protectors were injured and 7 were hospitalized.
Many are claiming that this attack against water protectors in sub-freezing temperatures is an official use of lethal force, calling on President Obama to finally take action and demand that police cease in their senseless attacks on peaceful protesters.
The conflict began earlier in the evening when a group of about 100 water protectors attempted to remove a police-constructed barricade on a major bridge into the protest site. The barricade made the bridge impossible to pass by car and forced people trying to enter or exit the camp to take a twenty-mile detour.
The protectors say that they had two small campfires near the bridge in order to warm themselves and make soup, but police claim that they were setting fires on the bridge – this, they say, was their motivation to unleash freezing water cannons on hundreds.
This is not the first violent attack against these water protectors and it certainly won’t be the last. Things will only continue to escalate unless President Obama can step up and demand that all of his constituents have the right to protest – as well as acknowledging that the federal government is aiding and abetting a criminal company by forcing these natives off of their land.
If the water protectors can occupy the land until January 1, it is possible that the investors in the Dakota Access Pipeline may pull out entirely, killing the project and proving the activists victorious. But until that day arrives, water protectors have a long, uphill battle against a combative company and law enforcement who are on the side of the oppressor.