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Booker Wants DOJ Investigation of DAPL Police Brutality; Sheriff Not Changing Tactics

Organizers of protests against construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline speak at a news conference on Nov. 26, 2016, near Cannon Ball, N.D. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)

Vanessa “Sioux Z” Dundon, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, is an example of the police brutality Dakota Access Pipeline protesters allege they have experienced at the hands of Morton County, N.D., sheriff’s deputies.

According to a post on gofundme.com, Vanessa was hit in the face by a tear gas canister fired by a deputy and suffered a detached retina.

DAPL protest leaders said the 21-year-old woman was just one of 200 people injured when the sheriff’s department moved against demonstrators Nov. 20.

Another woman, Sophia Wilansky from Bronx, N.Y., could lose an arm after, her father said, a concussion grenade blew up on her arm.

“Many if not all [of the] Youth Council has experienced brutality that’s come from Morton Co. Sheriff office, from broken limbs to PTSD’ #NoDAPL,” the Indigenous Environmental Network said in one of a stream of tweets Sunday.

Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told the AP he doesn’t have any intention of changing tactics at the site of the DAPL protests, which have been going on since April and have resulted in more than 500 arrests.

“We are just not going to allow people to become unlawful,” said Kirchmeier. ”It’s just not going to happen.”

Kirchmeier argued that North Dakota residents are backing his department’s actions because they are tired and even afraid of the continuing protests.

“People don’t want their livelihoods disrupted,” he said. “They are not taking this lightly.”

North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple has not backed down from supporting Kirchmeier.

“He has been totally professional in what is not a typical law enforcement challenge in North Dakota,” said Dalrymple.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) wants a U.S. Justice Department investigation to find out if Dalrymple is right.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Booker said the rubber bullets, tear gas canisters, and water cannons fired at protesters were just too much.

Booker also wrote that he was concerned by reports of “unconstitutional confinement” because of media reports that arrested “protesters were held in overcrowded cages, akin to dog kennels, on bare concrete floors without access to medical care.”

“There are also reports that protesters have been marked with numbers, which is degrading and inhumane,” wrote Booker.

Gov. Dalrymple (R) said much of the blame for police brutality on the front lines of the DAPL protests, if that is in fact how the actions of the Morton County Sheriff’s Department are judged, is the fault of the Obama administration.

“As long as the federal government allows protesters to camp without a permit on Corps property from which some members mobilize unlawful protest activities and as long as the federal government delays a final determination on the easement, we as a state and local communities are left to manage the challenges before us today,” Dalrymple said Nov. 18.

That is about to change.

Army Corps of Engineers Col. John Henderson has ordered everyone demonstrating against the Dakota Access Pipeline project to pack up and tear down their main protest camp by Dec. 5.

“I do not take this action lightly but have decided that it is required due to the concern for public safety and the fact that much of this land is leased to private persons for grazing and/or haying purposes as part of the corps’ land management practices,” Henderson wrote in a letter to Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II.

Henderson promised to set up a “free speech zone” for DAPL demonstrators. But he also warned that anyone who doesn’t move by the deadline could be charged with trespassing.

This is shaping up as the final showdown.

Demonstrators said in a statement Sunday that the federal government has no authority to tell them to move anywhere.

“The Oceti Sakowin encampment is located on the ancestral homeland of the Lakota, Mandan, Arikara, and Northern Cheyenne – on territory never ceded to the U.S. government, and affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Ft. Laramie as sovereign land belonging to the Great Sioux Nation,” said the coalition statement. “The encampment is, in many respects, a reclamation of this stolen territory and the right to self-determination guaranteed in the treaties. Our water protectors are not trespassers and can never be trespassers.”

The coalition statement also said “it was no coincidence” that Dec. 5, the day of the deadline, is also the anniversary of Gen. George Armstrong Custer’s birth.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier said the Army Corps of Engineers’ order was “not only disrespectful but continues the cycle of racism and oppression imposed on our people and our lands throughout history.”

Dave Archambault II said the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s resolve to continue with the protest “was stronger than ever.”

“It is both unfortunate and ironic that this announcement comes the day after this country celebrates Thanksgiving – a historic exchange of goodwill between Native Americans and the first immigrants from Europe. Although the news is saddening, it is not at all surprising given the last 500 years of the treatment of our people,” Archambault said.

Guess who else is bound and determined not to move: Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that is building the pipeline.

“There’s no ‘another way,’” Warren told the AP. “We’re building at that location.”