WARNING: This is a long rant, so you best make yourself comfortable.
I live in Morton County, North Dakota where all the Dakota Access Pipeline protests are taking place. Thankfully, so far, I’ve seen little of it out my front window.
We’ve all seen riots in other cities. Percentage-wise, few of us have seen a riot up close. It’s easy to say from hundreds or even thousands of miles away how people should respond, but — at least for me — it’s difficult to understand the fear, the hatred, the anger and uncertainty of everyone who experiences it first hand. Even for those who don’t participate, and merely want to go about their day in peace, but can’t.
The protests started because many of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe believed the pipeline was encroaching on sacred land, and thereby destroying many of their sites, including burial grounds. Time and again, and through multiple federal, state and local agencies, the claims have proven false. The pipeline in fact doesn’t even enter reservation land, and is going in the same easement as another pipeline built in 1982.
After Standing Rock lost two court cases, they changed their tactics to claim it’s about keeping the Missouri River free of oil contamination, and to protect our drinking water. Again, through multiple agencies, the pipeline design has shown to be well above current regulations with regard to safety (I have to add that all the water we drink is filtered, processed and cleaned of all forms of contaminates before it ever enters our pipes, so that argument is disingenuous at best).
Even that’s no longer the issue.
All day today, I’ve had this hard, dark, and sick feeling in my stomach. A sense of dread that refused to go away.
It stemmed mostly because I knew the police would be removing the so-called protesters from private land. They spent almost an entire day yesterday and this morning asking them to disperse, and return to the camp set up on Corps of Engineers land — which they have permission to occupy, and remove all the barriers they set up on state and county roads.
Many did leave, but enough remained that the police had to round them up. Sixteen were eventually arrested at that time, but not before they continued to block the roads and set fires to tires to create a black smoke which — I believe — they hoped would delay the police even further.
No one was harmed during the arrests (as of now 117 today, so we’re well over 300 total arrests since August). The police have shown remarkable restraint and professionalism. No one has been seriously injured, police and protesters alike.
Aside: Several weeks ago when my husband, Dave and I went out to lunch, six officers from a neighboring county who’re helping with the protests sat next to us. We chatted with them for a bit about some of their standard equipment including a tourniquet that’s no bigger than a pocket knife.
Before we left, my husband said, “Thank you for all you do. We really appreciate you.”
The looks on their faces when they said, “Thank you,” almost brought me to tears. It was obvious how much they appreciated being appreciated. Considering all the vitriol, hatred and outright threats they’ve received non-stop on social media alone (seriously, it’ll make your blood simultaneously turn cold and boil — if you don’t mind the cliché), I’m certain they don’t feel that appreciation enough.
Many of the Sioux Tribe aren’t even involved in the protests, and want them to stop as much as the other locals. Especially the farmers and ranchers who only want to get their livestock and crops in and taken to market in a timely manner, and not have to fear protesters trespassing and molesting their property, including livestock.
I had hoped that after all the arrests, my sense of foreboding was nothing more than an over-reactive fear (that happens with writers sometimes. We can’t help ourselves).
I was wrong. In the last few hours, a woman was arrested for shooting a firearm at the police line, a man was allegedly shot in the hand (don’t know the details on that), and our news agencies released reports of protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at police.
Someone asked on Facebook when all this was going to stop.
I responded thusly: “It won’t. Not even after someone dies, and I fear it will come to that. It’s not about water or oil anymore. It’s about hate and contempt, and feelings instead of the rule of law.”
I can’t help but wonder if these protests (read: riots) will soon spread to my town (because it’s also the county seat), and I am seriously considering carrying a firearm with me (don’t worry, it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I don’t carry concealed [I don’t have a concealed carry license as yet; I’m thinking it’s time I did]).
I hate that I’m thinking this way. I hate that it’s even possible in a state with a population of 600,000, and a county with a population of less than 30,000. I hate that I want to glare at every single person driving an out-of-state vehicle (of all arrests so far, less than 15% are from North Dakota). I hate that when I see a Native American, I wonder if they’re only here to protest (I still smile and say hello, though, because it’s the right thing to do. I just hate my initial reaction and assumptions).
For example, a few days ago I had to run to the City building to pick up a plat. I walk because it’s only four blocks away. At the same time, over 100 people were protesting for the release of a journalist (the judge eventually dropped the charges) at the County building which is right across the street from my destination.
When I stepped out of my office, I saw a Native American riding a bicycle.
My first thought? “Dude, you’re going in the wrong direction. The protest is the other way.”
As I approached, he stopped and asked where he could find social services. To quote, “I’m only here to look for work.” He didn’t even know people were protesting until he saw the police lights. Nor did he seem to care.
I asked him to follow me, and I’d show him where to go. He smiled a lot, thanked me more than once, and kept calling me “ma’am.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone passing us would take a second glance: A white girl and a Native American walking side-by-side toward the protests. I’m sure they all thought we were going there to add our voices to the protesters’. We definitely made an odd couple that day.
Will tomorrow be any better? If these riots (and they are riots as legally defined. See below) follow the same pattern as others, I sincerely doubt it. I can only pray for the safety of everyone involved, and those figuratively and literally caught in the crossfire.
Legal definition of a riot: A disturbance of the peace by several persons, assembled and acting with a common intent in executing a lawful or unlawful enterprise in a violent and turbulent manner.