More than 2,000 US military veterans have formed Veterans Stand for Standing Rock and plan to act as a human shield around protesters demonstrating against the Dakotas Access Pipeline.
Over 2,000 members of Veterans Stand for Standing Rock are planning to travel to a campsite near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to create a human barrier between protesters and law enforcement this weekend. The news comes just a day following the US Commission on Civil Rights accusing law enforcement of using “military-style equipment and excessive force” against Native American protesters.
Erick Lizandro Marroquin, one of the Veterans Standing for Standing Rock members, told RT America’s Ed Schultz that they acknowledge the risks of coming into conflict with law enforcement or other authorities that have been accused of excessive force.
“When we get there, we’re not just Latinos, blacks or whites, we are veterans,” Marroquin stated. “So, they will be shooting or threatening the uniform of the United States military. But it doesn’t have to get to this point.”
The veterans are not only hoping to offer some protection to the protesters, but also a respite from demonstrating.
“We want to give them a moment of peace so we can take a little bit of pressure off,” Ashleigh Jennifer Parker, a Coast Guard veteran and spokeswoman for Veterans Stand for Standing Rock, told USA Today.
The veterans will be going to the Oceti Sakowin campsite, which has been the target of a number of recent orders from the government. This weekend will be a critical time for the camp, as the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would close the protest camp on Saturday. While authorities say they do not plan to forcibly remove protesters, all remaining persons would be subject to prosecution and arrest.
On Monday, Governor Jack Dalrymple (R) ordered an emergency evacuation of the camp, citing harsh weather conditions. In addition, local law enforcement announced plans to block supplies from entering the campsite but walked back on that, claiming they would only check vehicles for prohibited supplies and issue fines of as much as $1,000 for violating the governor’s order.
“I figured this was more important than anything else I could be doing,” Guy Dull Knife, 69, a Vietnam War Army veteran, told Reuters.
Dull Knife has been at the campsite for months and will soon by joined by many more veterans, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Parker explained to USA Today that she and the other veterans are not concerned about violent treatment, because it would only bring more attention to the cause.
“We’re hoping if we stand together in formation and look the aggressors in their face… if they can treat us the same way [as protesters] then that should showcase to the American people what’s going on up there,” Parker said.
Comment: It will be interesting to see how this plays out at Standing Rock.
Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) has called for an investigation by the Department of Justice into the policing of protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The organization made the official request after four AIUSA human rights observers found that police used “tear gas, concussion grenades and fire hoses against protesters in sub-freezing temperatures“. Referring to their findings, the organization said, “we believe federal oversight is necessary.”
“We believe that an investigation by your office of the policing of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations in North Dakota is warranted, and that the Civil Rights Division should deploy observers to the area to ensure that the rights of people opposed to the pipeline are respected, protected and fulfilled,” AIUSA executive director Margaret Huang wrote in a letter to the DOJ
“Should your investigators uncover any civil rights violations by law enforcement, individual officers should be charged and prosecuted as warranted,” Huang continued.
On November 22, the US Commission on Civil Rights called for officials to de-escalate tensions and guarantee safety of protesters exercising their First Amendment Rights after “reports and testimony” highlighted the “use of military-style equipment and excessive force against protesters“.
Last Monday, several protesters filed a class action lawsuit against Morton County and Law enforcement agencies for alleged “illegal use of force” with “highly dangerous weaponry” on the night of November 20 and early morning of November 21.
The most serious injury to date was sustained by 21-year-old protester Sophia Wilansky who faces possible arm amputation after being struck by an alleged concussion grenade used by law enforcement officers during an altercation with pipeline security on November 21.
Activists are demonstrating against the pipeline’s proposed route which involves running under a river less than a mile from the Standing Rock reservation. The route has prompted fears it will harm the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s water source.
The company involved, Energy Transfer Partner, has reportedly suffered leaks of more than 18,800 barrels of oil in US pipeline spills since 2005.
The DOJ previously said it would not authorize the crossing under Lake Oahe until it has reviewed the issues raised by the tribe.