Obama Still Silent on Police Violence and Hundreds of Injuries of Dakota Pipeline Activists

Human Rights

The Obama administration has remained silent amid mounting calls for federal authorities to intervene to stop police violence at Standing Rock that left hundreds of water protectors injured Sunday night, some seriously. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department waged a 10-hour attack with rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades and cold water in sub-freezing temperatures, injuring at least 300 people, the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council reports.

According to a statement released by the Sacred Stone Camp, “The attacks came as water protectors used a semi-truck to remove burnt military vehicles that police had chained to concrete barriers weeks ago, blocking traffic on Highway 1806.  Water protectors’ efforts to clear the road and improve access to the camp for emergency services were met with tear gas, an LRAD (Long Range Acoustic Device), stinger grenades, rubber bullets, and indiscriminate use of a water cannon with an air temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Sophia Wilansky, a 21-year-old woman from New York City, was reportedly struck with a concussion grenade that destroyed much of her left arm. Her family says she is facing multiple surgeries in an attempt to save the limb. “She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand,” her father, Wayne Wilansky, said in a statement released Tuesday.

“Once again, we call on President Obama to stop this pipeline and the violence resulting from it, and to deny the easement,” Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Chairman, Dave Archambault II, said Tuesday. “The reckless escalation of violence by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department is unconscionable and preventable. It must stop now.”

“There was no reason to launch an attack against water protectors at the camp in the middle of the night unless you wanted to try and prevent the media from seeing what you were doing. None,” Archambault continued. “Blasting these innocent people with concussion grenades, rubber bullets the size of baseballs and a water cannon in freezing weather was a deliberate act of terror sanctioned by the sheriff.”

Wayne Wilansky echoed this call, declaring on Democracy Now! on Wednesday: “President Obama has to step in there and stop this. They’re drilling now even though they don’t have a permit. The Army Corps of Engineers has asked them to stop. The Army Corps of Engineers has said that they were not going to issue a permit until after they did further environmental studies and spoke with the tribe, and yet they go ahead and set all the drills in place and they continue—they’re probably drilling under the river, right now, as we speak.”

“And it’s a very, very dangerous situation there, and that’s just thing number-one,” he continued. “Number two is they have to demilitarize the police there. There’s no reason that the police should be intentionally trying to kill people, maim people, and this has to stop.”

Organizers say such calls are particularly urgent in light of the recent election of Donald Trump.

“President-elect Trump has no regard for the environment and cares even less about those of us trying to protect it,” said Kandi Mossett, an organizer for the Indigenous Environmental Network, in an interview with Grist. “The Obama administration, now more than ever, has to step up and either rescind the permits, call for a full Environmental Impact Statement or flat-out reject the Dakota Access Pipeline project from moving forward.”

So far, the White House has not directly responded to these latest pleas for protection. The silence continues despite new, disturbing accounts of Sunday’s attacks.

Angela Bibens, a member of the Water Protector Legal Collective, a project of the National Lawyers Guild, described in an interview with Democracy Now! what she witnessed during the attack:

[Law enforcement] deployed 20 mace canisters in a small area in less than five minutes, to the point where people have lost bowel function. At least one seizure has been witnessed at the front lines by our legal observation team. There have been people vomiting from the exposure to the mace. The water cannon has been mixed with the mace, and so even our legal observers have been exposed and are trying to deal with that while they’re doing up their notes. And canisters were shot at the medic area at the front line. There is at least one woman who has a broken kneecap. At least one elder went into cardiac arrest and was revived through CPR at the front line by medics.

Thousands remain at the camp and say they are determined to halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would cross beneath the Standing Rock Sioux reservation's main drinking water source and cut through the community's burial grounds. Meanwhile, more enforcements continue to arrive, including 100 social movement leaders from across the U.S. who hail from the Climate Justice Alliance and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance and will be arriving this week.

“This moment is calling all of us to stand by our value for life, for justice, for our families, for Mother Earth; asking of us to stand together with Standing Rock,” said Angela Adrar, executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance. “As a delegation of people who have seen the impacts of oppression and violence in our own lives, threatened by the incoming administration and climate change, we ask our communities to answer this call, use this moment to change American history in a way that supports indigenous movements and the protections of sacred water and sacred land for all our futures."

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