Hint: It’s a secret
Almost two years ago, Unicorn Riot published an investigative piece on how the state of Minnesota was preparing to respond to expected protests over construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. (Multi-Agency Task Force Prepares “Rules of Engagement” For Line 3 Protests.)
It pulled the curtain back on the “Northern Lights Task Force,” a group that was “stockpiling equipment and training police in preparation for Line 3 pipeline protests across the state.”
The coordination involved law enforcement agencies from states across the region including Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Documents showed that state officials had created an incident ‘Mobile Response Teams’ (or ‘MRTs’) to rapidly deploy and “confront any protest against the pipeline” in each of the State Patrol districts.
More than four months ago, when it began to look like the state would approved Line 3, Healing Minnesota Stories wrote the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to ask for basic information on the Northern Lights Task Force.
So far, the department hasn’t provided any information.
Protests have started and law enforcement’s response looks anything but coordinated. During recent protests in Aitkin County, near where Line 3 would cross the Mississippi River:
- Law enforcement would not let protesters leave a protest without providing IDs, or names and birth dates. Water Protectors were trespassing on an Enbridge easement, though law enforcement never gave a “leave-or-you’ll-be-cited warning,” which is common practice.
- At the same protest, the Aitkin County Sheriff’s Department arrested and jailed 20 people overnight. Throughout the arrest and jailing, COVID-19 protections were poor.
Perhaps the plan was just to intimidate protestors to try to deter future protests.
Things will likely escalate from here. A protest in Minneapols/St. Paul briefly closed the Lake Street/Marshal Avenue bridge Sunday.
When state law enforcement responds to protests, it is doing so in our names and with our tax dollars. We deserve to know more about protocols, training, and use of force policies.
On Aug. 5, Healing Minnesota Stories emailed Bruce Gordon, the Department of Public Safety’s director of communications seeking information on the department safety’s preparations regarding possible Enbridge Line 3 protests.
I requested information on the Northern Lights Task Force mission, participating agencies, training provided, expenses, and rules regarding whether State Patrol officers would be allowed to moonlight to provide Enbridge security, and what policies/contract provisions govern that decision.
This wasn’t a comprehensive ask, just something to start the conversation and help inform follow-up questions.
Gordon acknowledging the data request that same day. After nearly three weeks with no response, I sent a short email Aug. 26 asking how long it would take to respond to my request.
The next day, Gordon wrote: “I don’t have an estimate for you, but your request is in the queue.”
He offered no explanation for the delay.
I wrote Gordon again on Nov. 18 seeking an update. As of today, one month later, I hadn’t received a response.
It’s unacceptable. Gordon’s title of “director of communications.” He’s not communicating.
Apparently there’s no consequence for ignoring questions from the public.
Everyone would benefit from transparency. Water protectors could make informed decisions about the risks they are taking. The public would know whether or not law enforcement is following its stated policies. Even if there are some strategic response decisions that law enforcement wants to keep secret, what it the threat in releasing the Task Force’s mission, budget, expenses, who is doing the training, and use of force policies? That should be public information.
Enbridge has shared its Security Plan to state and local law enforcement. It’s not available to the public. One big concern for water protectors is a repeat of the security response seen to the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest in Standing Rock in 2016.
Enbridge Energy Partners LP (now Enbridge Inc.) became a minority partner in the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in August, 2016, months before the violence against DAPL water protectors. Enbridge was complicit with that violence.
According to the 2019 Unicorn Riot story:
As protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) ended in 2017, North Dakota Sheriffs and Highway Patrol officials began giving seminars advising agencies around the country on how to prepare for pipeline protests. North Dakota police leaders are now presenting themselves as trusted protest experts, based on their experience deploying Mobile Field Force teams to repress pipeline resisters at Standing Rock. …Unicorn Riot
According to the Unicorn Riot story, Minnesota law enforcement sought training from North Dakota law enforcement on how to respond to pipeline protests.
Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light organized a faith leader sign-on letter that told state leaders to oppose police violence against Line 3 protests.
Among its requests, the letter asked John Harrington, Commissioner of Public Safety, that “when deciding police protocol for use-of-force, you make your decision-making process transparent to the public.”
The letter garnered nearly 500 signatures, including: Bishop Bruce Ough, The United Methodist Church; Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO, Minnesota Council of Churches; Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, Director of Racial Justice, Minnesota Council of Churches; Rev. Joann Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Ricky DeFoe, Pipe Carrier, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa; Rabbis Michael Adam Latz and Arielle Lekach-Rosenberg, Shir Tikvah (Jewish); Rev. Ben Connelly, Minnesota Zen Meditation Center; Anita Bradshaw, Associate Conference Minister, Mayflower United Church of Christ and the Minnesota Conference, United Church of Christ; Sean Dunham, President, Executive Board, Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Bemidji; Karen Wills, Executive Director, Minnesota Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Alliance; and Julia Nerbonne, Executive Director, Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light.
It’s request hasn’t resulted in the hoped-for transparency.