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Police defend use of water cannons on Dakota Access protesters in freezing weather

Police defend use of water cannons on Dakota Access protesters in freezing weather

November 22
23:52 2016


Police defend use of water cannons on Dakota Access protesters in freezing weather

By Derek Hawkins November 21 at 4:33 PM

Authorities on Monday defended their decision to douse protesters with water during a skirmish in subfreezing weather near the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and organizers said at least 17 protesters were taken to the hospital — including some who were treated for hypothermia.

Protesters trying to push past a long-blocked bridge on a state highway late Sunday and early Monday were turned back by authorities using tear gas, rubber bullets and water hoses.

Tensions over the Dakota Access oil pipeline flared again Sunday when North Dakota law enforcement used water cannons to disperse a group of about 400 protesters trying to move past a barricaded bridge toward construction sites for the project. As temperatures in Cannon Ball, N.D., dropped into the 20s, police in riot gear sprayed activists with a hose mounted atop an armored vehicle and formed a line to prevent them from advancing up the road, according to the Bismarck Tribune. Protesters also reported being pelted with rubber bullets, tear gas and concussion grenades during the standoff, which lasted until late Sunday night.

A grainy Facebook Live video from the scene shows throngs of people gathered around the Backwater Bridge on Highway 1806, with floodlights shining down on the grass and road below and a haze of smoke and water vapor rising near police vehicles.

The clashes began around 6 p.m., when protesters tried to remove burned-out trucks that had been blocking the bridge since authorities and activists faced off there in late October. Police have since set up wire and concrete barriers on the bridge, which is about a mile south of where the pipeline developer plans to drill.

Protesters, who call themselves “water protectors,” have argued that the barricade prevents emergency services from reaching the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and a nearby camp they have used as a staging ground for demonstrations.

Authorities responded after protesters moved one of the trucks blocking the roadway. The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said that by 8:30 p.m., an estimated 400 people had arrived to try to “breach” the bridge and had set dozens of fires in the area. The department called the situation an “ongoing riot,” saying protesters were “very aggressive” and were trying to “flank and attack the law enforcement line.” At least one person was arrested, the sheriff’s department said.

One of the protest organizers, Dallas Goldtooth, said protesters started small fires in the area to help warm people who had been sprayed with water in the freezing cold. At least 17 protesters were injured severely enough to be taken to hospitals, Goldtooth said, according to the Associated Press.

He told the Tribune that some activists tried to remove the burned-out trucks to expose the heavily armed authorities behind them. “Folks have a right to be on a public road,” Goldtooth said. “It’s absurd that people who’ve been trying to take down the barricade now have their lives at risk.”

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