State of Intimidation Part II: Police overkill on Capitol Hill

South lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol. Photo: Maggie Schuppert

Minnesota law enforcement launched an over-the-top, fear-and-intimidation response to water protectors camped out in front the Capitol Friday.

The ‘Treaties Not Tar Sands’ rally had run Monday-Thursday on the Minnesota State Capitol Mall, calling on elected officials to shut down the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. It was a peaceful scene; roughly 20 tipis had been erected on the mall.

By late Thursday, a single large tipi remained. Native leaders were holding ceremony. Others were sleeping on the mall, according to one participant.

On Friday morning, law enforcement officers approached from multiple directions and swarmed the lone tipi. [Update: A media release from estimated 200 officers responded.] It as if they were trying to prevent a hostage situation or a bank robbery.

They demanded the tipi come down.

Indigenous leaders had to negotiate to be allowed to take the tipi down so that it could be saved rather than have law enforcement tear it down, one source said.

[Update: Six people had been arrested Friday.] The charges were not immediately known.

This situation raises significant questions about law enforcement’s bias against Indigenous water protectors and its ability to respond in proportion to the situation.

State Capitol Mall on Wednesday.

The Water Protectors issued the following statement:

Governor Walz and President Biden, We are here in prayer and ceremony to protect what we all need to live. Governor Walz has violated his oath of office, which requires him to honor the U.S. Constitution, including Article VI which states that treaties are the supreme law of the land. Line 3 violates treaties by threatening water, manoomin, and our climate, leading to the loss of usufructuary and cultural rights.

He has also erected barricades and posted guards to lock Minnesotans who oppose this pipeline out of the people’s house, continuing a trend of colonial violence marked by handing control and funding of the police to a transnational corporation, untold violations of civil rights, and criminalization of dissent. …

President Biden, as well, has failed to uphold treaties and the principle of free, prior, and informed consent by allowing the project to proceed without nation to nation consultation with sovereign tribes opposed to the project. We demand action to honor our treaties and stop Line 3.

President Biden must revoke Line 3’s Clean Water Act permits to conduct a federal Environmental Impact Statement, rescind Line 3’s Presidential Permit, or commit to other action to stop Line 3 from coming into service. …

Today, we must stay here peacefully and in prayer for as long as it takes to be heard. Because this country has shown that it can’t hear Indigenous voices and those that stand for a livable future — yet. We are all Treaty People and we all have an obligation to uphold. Denying treaty rights is a civil rights violation and a violation of international law. Honor our treaties and stop Line 3.  

At most, the water protectors might be guilty of a misdemeanor trespass … or assembly without a permit … or having a sacred fire without a fire permit. Nothing that required this extreme response.

The water protectors’ crimes seemed to be disobedience. As has been seen around the country, it’s dangerous in a white supremacy culture for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, and their white allies to be disobedient to authorities.

When you’re a hammer, every problem is a nail. For law enforcement, apparently even non-violent disobedience must be met with overwhelming force.

Tensions between police and water protectors had been building during the four-day “Treaties Not Tar Sands” gathering. (See State of Intimidation, Part I.) Water protectors arrived Monday and were greeted by a large law enforcement contingent; fencing and concrete barricades surrounded the Capitol.

State Capitol Monday.

It was a big “You are not Welcome Here” sign.

Law enforcement presence at state Capitol Wednesday.

Sasha Beaulieu called out the heavy law enforcement presence at the Wednesday rally.

All of these fences, and there’s cops everywhere. I feel like they are trying to silence us and they are trying to cage us in like animals. I feel like they have been … trying to silence us for 500 years. We’re sick of it. We are not going away. We’ve been here since the beginning and we are going to be here until the end. I’m hoping that a lot of you are here to do more than just listen. … Stand up with us. This fight is a long fight and we are not going anywhere.

Sasha Beaulieu

Jaike Spotted Wolf talked about the increase in human trafficking that accompanied large extractive projects such as Line 3. (Native women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. The state did very little to address the Native community’s legitimate concerns around the link between Line 3 and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.)

Spotted Wolf asked the large law enforcement contingent standing behind her, guarding the Capitol: “Can you tell me how many women went missing this summer? Can you tell me how many pipeline workers you busted?”

She answered her rhetorical question. They didn’t know because they weren’t looking for trafficked women. Instead, they were protecting Enbridge property. “You are a shameful lot and you know it,” Spotted Wolf said.

Taysha Martineau, founder of Camp Migizi, said: “There are no good cops in a racist system.”

Undoubtedly, the officers heard the anger in their voices. Less clear is whether they heard the deep pain of personal experience underlying that anger.

Friday morning at the Capitol. Photo: Gautama Mehta

This week’s events fit into a larger story.

A recent article in The Intercept gives more important details on Enbridge’s cozy relationship with Minnesota law enforcement. Through information requests, reporter Aileen Brown lifts the curtain on the internal conversations between law enforcement and Enbridge. She writes:

How law enforcement responds to the protest movement is a matter of training and discretion. The documents obtained by The Intercept suggest that Enbridge has stepped in to influence officers’ choices.

The Intercept

The State of Minnesota is responsible and accountable for this mess, including the botched response to the “Treaties Not Tar Sands event.” It created the Northern Lights Task Force in 2018, which set in motion tight coordination between law enforcement and Enbridge.

Such coordination has been ongoing.

[B]ack in April, members of the Northern Lights Task Force filled out a questionnaire for Enbridge. The public safety officials noted that it was a “priority” for law enforcement to obtain access to Enbridge security camera feeds. It also referenced the possibility of placing an Enbridge liaison inside the two law enforcement emergency operations centers, as well as a law enforcement liaison in Enbridge’s emergency operations center.

The Intercept
Another arrest from Friday morning. Photo: Gautama Mehta

In contrast, how much treaty rights training have law enforcement received? It’s a safe bet it was zero. Treaty rights are Constitutional rights and take precedence over any state and federal laws and permits.

We expect law enforcement to uphold the Constitution. Ignorance of the law is no defense. Officers need to be trained on — and able to enforce — treaty rights.

This is a huge legal and moral blind spot in our law enforcement system.

Red Lake and White Earth have repeatedly claimed Line 3 violates their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on lands they ceded to the U.S. government. No agency or state official in a position of authority has taken them seriously.

As previously noted, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) turned itself into a logic pretzel trying to take both sides of the argument. In its Line 3 Certificate of Need, it writes that it has “serious concern with the Project’s impacts to indigenous populations, acknowledging that the Project would traverse ceded territories where Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Chippewa tribes hold usufructuary hunting, fishing, and gathering rights.”

Those rights to hunt, fish, and gather are, in fact, treaty rights. Yet the next paragraph in the PUC’s order says: “the Commission found that granting the certificate of need was consistent with all applicable laws and policies.”

Both statements can’t be true. If Line 3 violates treaty rights, it can’t be “consistent with all applicable laws.”

Minnesota is continuing its shameful legacy of pretending treaty rights don’t exist until absolutely forced to recognize them. (See Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.)

Adding further bias, the PUC created a system where Enbridge reimburses law enforcement agencies for any Line 3-related activities. This turned local law enforcement into Enbridge’s private security and created a financial relationship between them.

Hubbard County Sheriff’s providing security for Line 3 site with little construction activity and no water protectors nearby, July.

The PUC also give Enbridge undue influence enforcing environmental rules and laws. It approved a system of “Independent Environmental Monitors” to oversee Line 3 construction on behalf of state agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

The monitors themselves report directly to state agencies. However, Enbridge is fundng them, and got to hire and train the monitors. It raises serious questions about the montor’s independence. If they want to work on future Enbridge projects, they have a financial disincentive to be sticklers on the rules.

The state’s structures and systems are set up to benefit a foreign corporation, not its citizens.

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