By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She now spends most of her time in India and other parts of Asia researching a book about textile artisans. She also writes regularly about legal, political economy, and regulatory topics for various consulting clients and publications, as well as writes occasional travel pieces for The National.
I guess that you might expect a film showing security guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on those protesting the Dakota Access oil Pipeline (DAPL) would be bound to get someone’s attention. Surely it might lead to an arrest or at minimum, disciplinary measures against those who employed such tactics against non-violent protestors. After all, the optics of such measures surely rebound against those who order them to be unleashed (anyone remember Selma, for example?)
Well, if you thought that, you would be wrong. We don’t live in sane times.
Instead, a warrant has been issued in Morton County, North Dakota for the arrest of award-winning journalist Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, on a charge of criminal trespassing, a Class B misdemeanor offense, as reported by the local Dickinson Press. Goodman and her team have been in the forefront of covering the DAPL protests. On September 3, they filmed security personnel working for the pipeline company using dogs and pepper spray to attack protesters. That graphic report, which may be viewed here, went viral and was rebroadcast widely by CBS, NBC, NPR, CNN, MSNBC and the Huffington Post, among other outlets.
“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” said Amy Goodman in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protesters.”
So much for heeding the reminder that the First Amendment applies as spelled out in the statement issued by the Department of Justice, Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interiors on Friday that asked for “voluntary” suspension of DAPL construction within a forty mile area surrounding Lake Oahe:
Finally, we fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely. We urge everyone involved in protest or pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. Of course, anyone who commits violent or destructive acts may face criminal sanctions from federal, tribal, state, or local authorities. The Departments of Justice and the Interior will continue to deploy resources to North Dakota to help state, local, and tribal authorities, and the communities they serve, better communicate, defuse tensions, support peaceful protest, and maintain public safety.
In recent days, we have seen thousands of demonstrators come together peacefully, with support from scores of sovereign tribal governments, to exercise their First Amendment rights and to voice heartfelt concerns about the environment and historic, sacred sites. It is now incumbent on all of us to develop a path forward that serves the broadest public interest.
Now, to be sure, the government statement doesn’t explicitly mention allowing the press to do its job. But, the last time checked, the First Amendment still applies to such press activities:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
I’m wondering whether they have copies of the US Constitution in Morton County. I mean, seriously, who could have thought that issuing such an arrest warrant was a good idea– especially after the feds stepped in and essentially asked everyone to take a time out. At whose instigation was this move undertaken? I can’t get my mind around what the move was designed to achieve: did they think they would actually shut down Amy Goodman?
Morton County officials have also issued arrest warrants for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Ajamu Baraka on misdemeanor counts of criminal trespass and criminal mischief. That case is not so straightforward, as Stein has admitted to spray painting construction equipment during protests last week. She has promised to return to North Dakota to face the charges and is now working with her attorneys and North Dakota authorities to fix a court date, according to the Chicago Tribune.
So far, 38 arrests have been made related to the DAPL protests, according to the Dickinson Press, which also reports that the North Dakota Private Investigation and Security Board is investigating the use of dogs by security personnel in connection with the protests as well as whether the personnel were properly licensed or registered to work in North Dakota.
Some strange things going down in North Dakota, however, and they don’t augur well for those who are peacefully engaging in constitutionally protected activity, including peaceful protest and press coverage. I noticed, for example, that the state
recently became the first to authorize the use of armed drones by police Watch your back, Amy! (And keep an eye peeled to the front and sides as well.)
Protests are not likely to go away, at least in the longer term. In an obvious attempt to defuse the situation, the three federal agencies on Friday called for a temporary halt in construction on a small portion of DAPL shortly after federal district court judge James E. Boasberg declined to issue an injunction stopping construction throughout the pipeline’s entirety. Yet as I argue here, there is far less to this federal action than meets the eye, and with the possible exception of the Lake Oahu section,the pipeline company will press on with construction as it is committed to supply contracts that kick in in 2017.