More than 80 people were arrested in North Dakota on Saturday, as police armed with pepper spray descended on a protest near the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) construction site.
The 83 water protectors were hit with charges ranging from rioting to criminal trespass, according to the Morton County sheriff's department. The Bismarck Tribune reported:
Kellie Berns, a protester who hung back behind a fence at the scene, said she received reports of people being pepper-sprayed and thrown to the ground and described law enforcement as being more aggressive than in past incidents. She said protesters were encircled by police as they walked onto the site.
"People came back very distressed," she said of those who returned to the fence following the demonstration. "The pipeline is getting a lot closer, so the stakes are getting higher."
Protests against DAPL have been ongoing for months, as the Standing Rock Sioux, along with other tribes and environmental activists, say the $3.8 billion, 1,100-mile pipeline threatens their access to clean water and violates Native American treaty rights.
Last week, riot charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman were dismissed after she turned herself in to North Dakota police. An arrest warrant was issued after Goodman's crew videotaped a private security team hired by the pipeline company assaulting peaceful protesters with attack dogs and pepper spray. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker Deia Schlosberg faces up to 45 years in prison for reporting on the protests.
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"This string of arrests constitutes nothing less than a war on journalism and a victory for fossil fuel interests that have banked on the pipeline," Food and Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said last week.
Saturday's arrests follow reports of escalating police abuse at the protest sites, including beatings and unnecessary strip-searches of those arrested.
On Twitter, Ojibwe activist and attorney Tara Houska wrote:
Journalists, attorneys, indigenous protectors arrested & maced while demonstrating today. Whose interest is North Dakota protecting?
— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) October 22, 2016
Construction on the pipeline is continuing despite a request from the federal government to put a halt on activity so that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can properly consider objections.