About 400 Dakota Access Pipeline protesters were met by police who used mace, tear gas, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, and a water cannon in below-freezing temperatures in North Dakota on Sunday night. Police claim the protesters "have started a dozen fires" in what authorities are referring to as "an ongoing riot." The protesters and their supporters, however, claim they've been unjustly attacked.
The Morton County Sheriff's Department addressed the alleged "ongoing riot" on Facebook. "Law enforcement is currently involved in an ongoing riot on the Backwater Bridge, north of a protest camp in Morton County, [North Dakota]," the department wrote. According to the department, an estimated 400 protesters, who "started a dozen fires near the bridge," were "on the bridge and attempting to breach the bridge to go north on highway 1806."
But many people aren't buying the Sheriff Department's narrative, as the top comments on the Facebook post reveal. "You're NOT fooling anyone by trying to word things in your favor," one Facebook user wrote. Another commented, "I stand with standing rock. I see police trying to make these people freeze to death. This is horrible police brutality."
The Associated Press reports the conflict started around 6 p.m. on Sunday when protesters moved a burned-out truck from the Backwater Bridge, which is near an encampment where protesters have based their protests for weeks. When the protesters tried to cross the bridge, police reportedly forced them back using a water cannon and tear gas. According to the Guardian, rubber bullets and percussion grenades were used as well.
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and founder of the Sacred Stone camp, told the Guardian: "They were attacked with water cannons. It is 23 degrees out there with mace, rubber bullets, pepper spray, etc. They are being trapped and attacked. Pray for my people."
A gym in nearby Cannon Ball, North Dakota, was opened to provide medical help to the protesters, many of whom were soaking wet in the below-freezing temperatures. According to Jade Begay of the Indigenous Environmental Network, 167 people were injured and seven of them were taken to the hospital to receive medical care.
Police claim the protesters involved in the "ongoing riot" were "very aggressive" and were throwing rocks and shooting burning logs from slingshots. One person was arrested.
With Thanksgiving coming up this week, some noted that the discrimination against Native Americans seems all too familiar:
Because temperatures dropped to below freezing levels, many were especially concerned with the use of a water cannon against the protesters:
While multiple videos very clearly show authorities hitting protesters with a water cannon in below-freezing temperatures, sheriff spokesperson Rob Keller told NBC News that water cannons were not deployed. The water, he said, was being sprayed from a fire truck to control the fires being set by the protesters.
Last week, the chief executive of the Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners said the company will not be rerouting the pipeline, which runs for 1,200 miles through four states, carrying oil from North Dakota to Illinois, according to AP. Protesters have fought the $3.8 billion pipe line for months now and will likely continue to do so despite the most recent developments involving police.