I Witnessed Cops Using Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, and Sound Cannons Against Anti-Pipeline Protesters

Police tactics at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest have gotten dramatically more aggressive.

An anti-pipeline protester holds a bottle of water near police officers in riot gear.Wes Enzinna

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


Police tactics at the Dakota Access Pipeline protest grew dramatically more aggressive last week, with law enforcement using tear gas, rubber pellets, sound cannons, and other controversial methods to clear activists from a road and a nearby encampment. The latest clashes followed a complaint from Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault, who warned of an “overall militarization of law enforcement” at the pipeline protest and requested an investigation by the Department of Justice. 

As tribal members and their supporters occupied a stretch of contested land directly in the pipeline’s path, dozens of police from six states, dressed in riot gear and equipped with armored personnel carriers, cleared the path of protesters, teepees, and in one instance, a horse. Amnesty International, which is monitoring the confrontation, criticized the response from the Morton County, North Dakota, sheriff’s department. “Confronting men, women, and children while outfitted in gear more suited for the battlefield is a disproportionate response,” a spokesman said. In total, 141 people were arrested.

Anti-pipeline protesters behind barricades erected near police lines Wes Enzinna

Here are some of the aggressive police tactics I witnessed or heard about while observing the protests:

Tasers: Medic Noah Morris showed me this Taser barb, which he said he’d pulled from the cheek of a protester. An unknown number of other protesters were also tased.

 

Rubber bullets: I watched police shoot shot-gun-style weapons at protesters on more than a dozen occasions. Morris, the medic, also showed me these rubber pellets, which he’d retrieved from a protester’s leg.

According to multiple sources including the Los Angeles Times and the BBC, protesters’ horses were shot at with rubber bullets. One horse’s legs were so badly damaged it had to be euthanized. This video shows a horse whose rider says its legs were shot.

 

Sound cannons: Long Range Acoustic Devices, which emit an ear-splitting whine, were used intermittently throughout the day. Some models can cause permanent hearing loss. A number of journalists, including myself, wore earplugs to protect ourselves, but many of the protesters did not have earplugs.

 

Tear gas: Dozens of protesters were sprayed with tear gas for refusing to vacate the road they’d been blocking. Here are photos of two people I saw being tear-gassed for not moving out of the way quickly enough.

Anti-pipeline protester after being tear-gassed Wes Enzinna

Anti-pipeline protester after being tear-gassed Wes Enzinna

 

Drones: Though a no-fly zone enacted on October 25 forbids civilians and protesters from flying above the protest site, Morton County police and Dakota Access Pipeline employees flew drones over protesters. A helicopter owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company of Dakota Access Pipeline, and a plane owned by Morton County have been seen flying over the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and nearby protest camps.

Holding cells: According to the Los Angeles Times, “protesters…arrested in the confrontation had numbers written on their arms and were housed in what appeared to be dog kennels, without bedding or furniture.” Yet according to a statement I received from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, it has held protesters in “temporary holding cells” while awaiting processing or transfer to other jails. The 10-by-14 foot cells are approved by the North Dakota Department of Corrections, and the sheriff’s department says inmates have access to “bathroom facilities, meals and drinking water.”

Holding cells at the Morton County Correctional Center Morton County Sheriff’s Department

For more scenes of last week’s protests—and the police equipment and tactics deployed against them—watch this video by the media collective Unicorn Riot:

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest