For the past several months, protesters have been camping out at the site of the prospective location of the Dakota Access Pipeline. A wealth of attention has reached Standing Rock, a Lakota and Dakota tribal reservation, whose 1851 treaty lands are where the DAPL is due to be built.
With a population clocking in at a little over 8,000, the tribes claim that the construction of the DAPL is a breach of tribal sovereignty, as well as a major environmental risk to their water supply. The resulting clashes between the Standing Rock reservation, protesters and the police have been nothing less than chaotic.
For a peaceful protest, the government’s response to it has been extraordinarily violent and well-documented, but has earned little media attention. Even the presidential candidates failed to mention it during their debates. However, when it came to environmental policy, all dialogue in that regard was an absolute failure.
Videos of police using rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons against protesters have popped up on the internet. The lack of any real response from anyone other than a journalist or a YouTube commenter is simply disgusting. This broad apathy cannot become a new norm for this country, especially with the consideration in mind that an idiot is about to enter the White House.
This issue sits in between the United States's problematic relationship with Native Americans and an increasingly laid back attitude to implementing substantial environmental policy in this country.
One of the first snags that comes with the DAPL is that it appears to be a full violation of tribal sovereignty. It really should not be so complicated: the tribes have a right to forbid a privately funded pipeline from being built on land that the government has determined to be in their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the state police have deemed it fit to consider anyone protesting the private pipeline's construction as a trespasser.
The subject of police reactions continues to become terrifyingly frequent, even in this case. Police responses to protesters have been sadly predictable. Use of dangerous crowd-control techniques and an overall disregard for the safety of the protesters has led to major injuries and a general atmosphere of fear and distrust at Standing Rock.
Police have also been using less conventional techniques such as Long Range Acoustic Devices, which emit higher frequency and volume alarms, as crowd dispersal methods. Apparently, nothing builds trust better than imposing unconventional policing methods.
On a broader point, protests have come up in yet another pipeline construction controversy, something that should have been purged from the national discussion long ago. As the country moves slowly but surely toward cleaner energy, more drastic steps need to be taken to phase out remnants of dirtier energy. A massive pipeline—one that is susceptible to leakage and combustion—delivering oil is essentially a giant fossil in a sea of new technology. It is absurd and yet somehow still approved in a world in which the country desperately needs to move on from such dependencies. However, with the recent announcement that noted climate change denier Myron Ebell now serves as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, all of that progress is now in limbo.
Now, these issues have reached a deadly crossroads at Standing Rock, where the protest will ultimately pave the way for all action regarding environmental policy, police militarization and hopefully, the treatment of Native Americans.
Thankfully, media attention has steadily increased and shined a light on the plight of the protesters, thanks in part to smaller news outlets like the New York Daily News and Vox Media. These outlets try to bring a much stronger focus to the conflict. Some surprising celebrity arrests have also given extra minutes of screen time, such as when Shailene Woodley and Rosario Dawson were taken in by police back in August.
This is a dangerous protest, make no mistake. Injuries are to be expected if the police choose to continue with near-lethal crowd control. The freedom of assembly is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and this is a violation of that freedom in the greatest regard. Lives should not be lost in this fight. They should not even be expected to be lost in this fight.
Protesters are standing up for something that they see as unfair treatment of regular citizens. Someone else's misery is not an inconvenience, as the police seem to see it, but an opportunity to help alleviate it.