The Dakota Access Pipeline & Law Enforcement Cracking Down on Protestors


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Law enforcement arresting protestors
Photo Credit: 
NPR, from Amy Sisk & Prairie Public Broadcasting

                While there isn’t media silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline, there certainly isn’t an abundance of coverage on it. The concerns over the pipeline and the protests which have grown in an effort to impede or altogether halt progress certainly seem newsworthy, but on many news sites and in much of the news coverage there’s little to find on the topic. However, the pipeline merits attention for several reasons, such as the growing discord and frustration construction has generated, the risks the pipeline could pose once in use, the potential cultural devastation it would wreak, and the methods being employed by law enforcement in increasingly intense efforts to disperse protestors. Additionally, an interesting comparison can be drawn between the relatively tame treatment law enforcement gave the armed Bundy brothers and their ilk compared to the treatment presently being doled out to protestors. Add to that that the likes of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein have felt it crucial to weigh in, and it must again be said that this story deserves far more attention and traction than it’s getting.

                So, what are the primary concerns protestors are rallied by? Well – the biggest two tend to be concerns over the potential for horrendous environmental impacts and concerns over impacts to Native American land. The pipeline’s proximity to water supplies alone draws merited concerns as it could result in a Flint-like situation where a population faces undrinkable water due to environmental fallout in the event of pipeline leakage or damage. Even if water supplies weren’t jeopardized by a leak or damage, the local wildlife could certainly be. While some might feel this concern is prioritizing possible risk over economic necessity, the Army Corp of Engineers has agreed that the risk is very real (if unavoidable for this project)1. Additionally, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has spoken out and protested the impact this would carry for lands of cultural significance1. Given the history of suffering Native Americans have experienced at the hands of the American government, continued construction almost seems morally repugnant.

                Still, there’s more to it than that. Protests have been ongoing, and as previously mentioned the response of law enforcement has been growing increasingly heavy-handed. In fairness, some protestors stand accused of acting violently as well – but many claim they’ve done so only after being provoked/engaged by law enforcement. 141 people were arrested Thursday with police using bean bag rounds, high volume sound, and pepper spray to disperse remaining protestors2.  Law enforcement confirmed that most protestors were peacefully protesting, but that a minority had thrown Molotov cocktails, lit debris on fire, and even lit several vehicles on fire2. While violence cannot be advocated from the protestors, it should likewise not be advocated for from law enforcement unless absolutely necessary. When comparing the response to the pipeline protests to the response to the Bundy brothers and their group occupying federal land while brandishing weaponry, the question has to be raised of why there’s such a disparity between the treatment of both groups in their relative protests.

                And then, of course, there’s the consideration to be made of political voices offering support to the protestors. The likes of Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein have joined in advocacy for the cause. Sanders has gone so far as to call on President Obama to protect protestors and stop the pipeline’s progress3. Jill Stein was actually charged for joining in protests of the pipeline, and will be facing a day in court for taking part4. Whether President Obama will heed Sanders’ call remains to be seen, but that may well be the best hope to delaying the pipeline.

                For many, this case is boiling down to the fairly old (but recurrent) argument of whether economic or ecological needs are more pressing. The commonly excepted logic is that there is a balance that must be ever struck between these two competing demands, but the question is which cause holds the greater importance. Regrettably, there is no simple answer to this conundrum. Economic growth is necessary and crucial, both because people needs jobs and the government needs tax revenue – both things that are connected to the economic state of our nation. On the other hand, if we fail to care for our environment we face a grim future with lacking resources. Would we become as smog-filled as parts of China, or have our water become undrinkable from contaminants? The best solution is to favor environmental/ecological causes whenever necessity dictates, and to favor economic causes with environmental/ecological concerns factored in as best is possible at all other times. And, if one believes in that standard, then the Dakota Pipeline putting a water supply at risk per the Army Corp of Engineers assessment means it likely carries greater risk than reward.

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