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Police Attack on DAPL Demonstrators: A Hell of Ice and Tear Gas

A scene from the night of Nov. 20. (Donald Kaufman)

Truthdig correspondent Donald Kaufman has just returned from North Dakota after covering the ongoing opposition to construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In this article he reports on a police attack on marchers less than two weeks ago, one of the most violent incidents to have occurred since the demonstrations began. He will write a follow-up report on his observations inside a jail where arrested water protectors were detained.

Hundreds of “water protectors” marched at dusk from Oceti Sakowin Camp toward police barricades on Highway 1806. Some in the crowd held plastic shields. Many wore googles and had scarves wrapped around their mouths. They massed in front of a barricade on a bridge. It consisted of a barbed-wire fence, a line of militarized police, the burned remains of a massive truck and at least one tank.

Darkness had fallen when the first tear gas was fired. Spotlights, mounted by law enforcement on a ridge, illuminated the clouds that had started to engulf the crowd. Several people panicked. They were screaming.

“Stand your ground! Stand your ground! Stand your fucking ground!” someone yelled.

Amid the clouds and choking tear gas, people began to turn and run. The police kept lobbing tear gas canisters. They fired stun grenades at those running for safety. Overhead, planes and helicopters circled.

My goggles fogged up. My eyes began to burn. I could not see. My lungs felt as if they had collapsed. I began to gag. Some medics carried me away from the crowd. They poured water and a milk-like liquid over my face. I vomited.

“You are illegally trespassing,” the police loudspeaker boomed to the demonstrators who had not crossed the police barricade. “You need to disperse.”

The police began to fire rubber bullets into the crowd. Water cannons opened up on the demonstrators. The water in the subzero temperatures turned clothes into ice. Those hit by the water said it felt as if it had been laced with pepper spray or Mace.

Groups of water protectors built small bonfires. I could hear music. I could hear people chanting prayers.

Cellphones suddenly stopped working. We could not transmit videos or images. Camera phones flickered on and off at random.

The confrontation lasted through the night. Ambulances rushed in and out. By 7:30 a.m. the police attacks had ceased.

Two tanks loomed over the barricades. More than 300 people were injured, and 26 people were taken to the hospital for treatment. One of them was Sophia Wilansky, 21, who was hit with a concussion grenade that blew apart her lower arm. Whether she will lose the limb is unknown.

Below is a video from inside the crowd. This was the first violent confrontation of the night.

Donald Kaufman
Correspondent
Donald Kaufman began contributing to Truthdig in 2013. He has reported from many locations, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and North Dakota, where he covered the confrontations over the Dakota Access…
Donald Kaufman

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