This Sunday I will board a plane and fly to Bismarck, North Dakota once again. This privilege is provided by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which granted me the opportunity to research the evolution of American police militarization, both in terms of tactics and equipment and the psychological and physical effects on a population which has endured a high level of police violence. In particular, I am focused on the Standing Rock water protection protests against Energy Transfer Partner’s Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs under the Standing Rock Reservation’s main water source, Lake Oahe.
My last trip to the Treaty Lands of the Dakotas was enlightening to say the very least. I spoke to a Lakota mother and activist named Tanyan InajinWin, who told me about the systematic racism prevalent in South Dakota, and her experiences at Standing Rock which left her with severe shoulder pain and eye problems. I spoke to a Dakota headsman named Manape LaMere who gave me an in depth overview of the history of the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires in Lakota i.e. the Great Sioux Nation) peoples, and had much to say about what his people experienced at Standing Rock. I talked to people who still endure ongoing police surveillance for non-violently protesting an oil pipeline which could contaminate the water source for millions of people, most of them Indigenous.
I was blessed with incredible sources which helped me to understand both the larger narrative involved in the protest, and the tactics and weaponry that police wielded in suppressing the protest. I will be speaking to many of them again, and I will be also be meeting new sources. My work is far from over.
This Tuesday, a new facet in all of this emerged: Energy Transfer Partners, with the help of Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz, has filed in U.S. District Court a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) lawsuit against Greenpeace, Stand.Earth, 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Red Warrior Camp. My friend and colleague Steve Horn wrote a very informative piece on this for DeSmogBlog. The lawsuit appears to be a classic SLAPP-strategic lawsuit against public participation, and I can already see it working - a small number of my sources already had to cancel their plans to speak with me.
I am asking readers of MuckRock to contribute either their own voices to my research, or to connect me with folks in either of the Dakotas that may be willing to speak with me, particularly people who live either on Reservations or are connected to the Indigenous communities that protested for their water source and their continued survival. If you have suffered from PTSD after Standing Rock, or any other mental or physical affliction, I want to hear from you. Less lethal weapons used by police are often treated less seriously by the media - but as I have heard, fire extinguishers filled with pepper spray, rubber bullets, powerful water hoses, tear gas, and batons can do quite a number on a person’s body and mind, especially when a protest lasts for months and months. It is central to my project to learn about the effects of all this on demonstrators.
While this piece is mostly directed to people in the Dakotas for my trip next week, I also would ask people who protested at Ferguson, Baltimore, Minneapolis, the inauguration, Charlottesville, Boston this last week - any demonstration that has resulted in police violence, really - to also reach out to me by email at Curtis@MuckRock.com, or on twitter where you can find me @CHWaltman. My DM’s are open.
Image by Curtis Waltman