A ruling in a Morton County, North Dakota courtroom shows how people in our nation live in very different worlds and how much work we have ahead to find common understandings of fairness and decency.
A Morton County jury found eight Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters guilty of disorderly conduct, according to a story in the Bismarck Tribune. The court fined them between $1,250 and $1,685 each. Their crimes included such actions as “sitting on a gravel access road built by the company, pushing into law enforcement and standing in the road,” the story said.
Defense attorney Alex Reichert told the judge that a $1,000 fine was more than he’d seen imposed for this type of crime in his 20-year legal career. …
The fines came after a request from Ladd Erickson, a special prosecutor for Morton County, who contends the protesters wanted to inflict harm on the state, people and police.
There is a large disconnect between how different people understand harm
The jury found that the water protectors exceeded their First Amendment rights and created obstructions with no legitimate purpose, the story said. The jury bought the prosecutor’s argument that the protestors wanted to inflict harm, not make a conscientious effort to protect the water.
While this could not be argued in court, it needs to be said that overall the water protectors have faced much worse harm. The heavily militarized law enforcement response has included concussion grenades, mace, water cannons in freezing temperatures, and efforts to deprive water protectors of sleep. That sounds more like “intent to inflict harm” than standing on a gravel road or bumping into an officer. There just isn’t a comparison between the two.
As more trials of DAPL protesters come forward, expect more of the same. According to the Tribune story, Erickson said he will increase fines for upcoming, more violent cases. “There will be a reckoning for what our officers went through,” Erickson said.
And it should be noted that there will be “reckoning” for what water protectors went through, too. Lawsuits are still pending against law enforcement for excessive use of force. If a misdemeanor for sitting in a gravel road gets at least a $1,250 fine, imagine what the fine will be for using a water cannon in freezing temperatures, sending water protectors to the hospital with hypothermia.
A North Dakota state website says the maximum fine for a Class B misdemeanor is $1,500, so the court seems to have levied maximum fines. (Not sure how one person got a fine of $1,685.) Those guilty of a Class B misdemeanor also can get 30 days in jail. None of the eight found guilty will receive jail time.
Update on Chase Iron Eyes
We wrote earlier about the arrest of 76 people at the new “Last Child’s Camp” Wednesday, including Chase Iron Eyes, lead counsel for the Lakota Peoples Law Project. An email from Madonna Thunder Hawk of the Lakota Peoples Law Project provided an update:
The authorities are up to their usual nasty tricks. Chase reports from inside jail that law enforcement has unfairly delayed the hearing process for the Water Protectors, allowing many to suffer in inhumane conditions—some left for too long in locked vehicles without access to restrooms.
Rift in the DAPL Opposition
The Standing Rock Nation has distanced itself from Wednesday’s action that resulted in the arrests, according to another story in the Bismarck Tribune:
“This group’s actions do not represent the tribe nor the original intent of the water protectors,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement Wednesday night. … instead of empowering us, it undermines us.”