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US Police Attack DAPL Protesters With Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets And A Water Cannon

Last Thursday I highlighted the increasing militarisation of law enforcement in rural North Dakota where thousands of Native Americans and their supporters are protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), a huge engineering project passing near Reservation communities in Sioux County. The controversial excavation work has led to several weeks of confrontations between local people and state authorities, tensions heightened by the apparent free hand given to several private security firms employed by the construction companies profiting from the project.

Sunday evening, the 20th of November, saw some of the worse scenes of violence witnessed so far, as hundreds of demonstrators assembled near a barricaded bridge on Highway 1806, which leads to one of the main DAPL engineering camps in the Cannon Ball area. The crossing, known as the Backwater Bridge, has been closed since October 27th following the burning of several military-style vehicles by protesters as riot police, firing rubber bullets and pepper spray, stormed a small activists’ camp in the area. An attempt by locals to remove the burned wrecks on Sunday was met with a volley of tear gas canisters from police officers guarding a temporary wall of concrete blocks and barbed wire sealing off one end of the bridge. As others in the vicinity were drawn to the commotion a water cannon mounted on the roof of an armoured car was used to soak those approaching the crossing, despite the freezing nighttime temperatures. Law enforcement officers soon added concussion grenades and rubber bullets to the water jets, fired directly into the crowds, causing scores of injuries, the resulting mayhem lit up with spotlights.

Given the absence of the mainstream press, footage of the clashes has largely derived from social media platforms, including recordings captured by a video camera mounted on an overhead civilian drone, which police officers later tried to bring down. Representatives of the Standing Rock tribe, who say the pipeline will encroach upon their primary source of drinking water and a community burial ground, stated that up to 167 men and women have been hurt or suffered the effects of hyperthermia as a result of the police action on Sunday night. Several people have been reportedly hospitalised for head traumas. Rubber and plastic bullets, so-called baton rounds, became notorious during the conflict in the UK-administered north-east of Ireland where their use by the British Occupation Forces caused numerous fatalities among the Irish civilian population. The frequent targeting of children and teenagers by soldiers and paramilitary police led to the weapons being dubbed “child-killers”. A resolution by the European Parliament in 1982 demanding a ban on plastic and rubber projectiles was rejected outright by the then UK government of Margaret Thatcher. Similar demands from the United States’ Congress was also ignored by Britain.


9 comments on “US Police Attack DAPL Protesters With Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets And A Water Cannon

  1. It’s been confirmed that one of the protestors- a woman, who was shot by a rubber bullet- is having to have her arm amputated because of that injury.
    I’m sick at heart and am thoroughly frightened,
    Boycott this country. There is noting good here, right now.

  2. King Philip’s War, what has changed since?

  3. There is another way of looking at this too.
    Protesting doesn’t actually work, in the sense that most protests, historically speaking, haven’t had their causes supported by the people they are protesting against. And sadly, many protesters fail to recognise this.
    All the while the police the world over are learning how to deal with and destroy protests.
    The police are getting extremely skilled at breaking up, injuring and demoralising protesters, yet protesters continue to employ the same old tactics that are centuries old. In this case the use of social media may be exposing the police, but it’s certainly not stopping them.
    The best protest will come when no-one shows up to society, tax paying, buying consumer products and doing as they are told. We need to stop fighting powers that cannot be defeated, attack your enemy where it is weak, never attack its strengths. Unless you’re going to reinvent protesting in some extremely creative way, then get used to having your skull cracked by a baton, hosed down and defeated. I don’t like it either, but it’s true.

    • Not so sure about that. Social media platforms mean that protesters – and police reactions to the protesters – are being disseminated in ways that the old press would never have allowed. Which has its good and bad points. I was able to monitor the clashes in North Dakota on Sunday night pretty much live via Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Periscope and Snapchat. Transpose that technology to the scenario of a new Brexit border around the north-eastern Six Counties here in Ireland and the “state” would soon find itself in trouble. As I pointed out before, live streaming images of British soldiers or police beating back demonstrators in Armagh or Fermanagh, and the reaction to that, would be a game-changer. 2016 is not 1976 or 1986.

  4. Very interesting question. I wouldn’t say nothing is changing in protests though. Every second person is a walking camera at many protests now and getting the police to react is a victory in itself sometimes. It probably does nothing for the original cause but it raises “awareness”. Like you say though Mike, I’m not sure how many people outside of the ranks of the protesters themselves give it any attention.
    In a way there’re a lot of parallels between protesting and conducting a guerilla/insurgent/rebellion/terrorist war. From water protesters baiting Gardaí to Isis beheading prisoners, it’s all about the Youtube hits.

    • If TV images can shock and influence then I think it’s fair to say that internet-carried images will do the same. Yeah, there is the echo chamber problem. But then again if you are a political activist… You can only get a hundred people to attend your protest rally despite knowing that several thousand more people support it. You post a video of police beating your and your comrades. Those several thousand supporters see it and at the next rally you get two hundred protesters. Now repeat.

      If there was another Bloody Sunday Massacre you’d be seeing it all over your Facebook and Twitter feeds – in unexpurgated form – and not just in carefully edited video on the nightly TV news.

  5. Since when did Youtube hits change political/corporate decisions?
    Does it matter how many people on social media know about it?
    Is there actually any evidence to show that social media can sway the outcome of a situation like this?
    Bearing in mind that the internet is probably controlled, on some level, by the security services/military.
    I think we might be living in a bit of a fantasy land here…

    • Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 certainly benefited from social media as did Sanders’ attempt at the Democratic Party nomination this year (the former successfully, the latter with near-success). The power of the internet will continue to grow in the coming decades. Yes, TV is still the 800-pound gorilla in the room but its influence is dwindling as Millennials and post-Millennials look elsewhere for their primary news/information sources. The viewing demographics of Fox and even MSNBC all lean heavily to the over-60s. So yeah, I would argue that the evidence is emerging, albeit it slowly.

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