Law Enforcement is Systematically Dehumanizing Standing Rock Water Protectors to Justify Violence

Police have justified their tactics throughout the Standing Rock resistance. Photo by Christopher Francisco

Guest Commentary

Published February 19, 2017

Part 1 of 2

Dehumanization; it is the first step to war. Long before the tanks roll onto ships, or planes fly overhead, propaganda strips the enemy of their humanity. The simplest way to dehumanize is to demonize. The Morton County Sheriff and local press are knowingly and calculatingly taking aim at the safety of the Standing Rock Water Protectors’ by slowly tainting the perception of their character and stripping them of their humanity.

On October 16, 2016, the Morton County Sheriff published on their Facebook page an article from with the headline “Butchered and missing livestock reported near Dakota Access Pipeline protest camp” The article connected the Standing Rock Water Protector camps to 30 missing cows, and the deaths of four cows, three bison and a saddle horse by saying it happened near the camps.

The cow rustling incident was in a different county, investigated by a different sheriff. It was not Morton County’s jurisdiction.

North Dakota Stockmen’s Association (NDSA) Chief Brand Inspector Stan Misek asserted, “They’re [the cattle] missing from right beside the camps, right there. We don’t know. We don’t know for sure. We’re just putting it out there and hopefully somebody will come forward.”

The camps are monitored by aircraft which visit numerous times per day. Police have stations on the ridges above the camps. They employ electronic surveillance devices which trap cell traffic. It is monitored at all times, day and night. One camp is up a large hill and has cattle catchers on the way in. Another is in a large geographic bowl and into a plain. It is surrounded by rivers on three sides – which at the time were not frozen. The only part of the camp which is not surrounded by river is lined by a major highway.

Barbed-wire fences coated with frozen water from water cannons.

The idea that Water Protectors sneaked out undetected past the hundreds of police and aircraft, collected 30 cattle, smuggled them back to camp, took them along the highway, and took them either up a huge three-mile hill, past cattle catchers or down a big hill, slaughtered them, butchered them, and ate them with no detection is truly a concession of incompetence of police surveillance or entirely fallacious.

The improbably and reality is not point. This was no mindless move, or silly bit of eye rolling non-sense. It was a shot right at the Water Protectors’ safety. It was a shrewd move to show the Standing Rock Sioux, Water Protectors, and their supporters the Sheriff knows history – and they mean to repeat it.

A dead cow and dehumanization led to wars lasting 14 years.

In 1854, the cow of a Mormon traveler on the Oregon Trail was killed by a starving Native American. Instead of dispatching an Indian Affairs Officer as treaty required, the military sent itself to deal with the situation. Lakota Chief Conquering Bear met the battalion of American Army soldiers peacefully. The military demanded he turn over the cow murderer. Conquering Bear refused because it is against Lakota custom to put a guest in a harmful situation. He offered the Mormon a horse and a cow. The Mormon demanded money. Conquering Bear had no money. Talks broke down. As he was walking away, Conquering Bear was shot in the back and died. The Lakota killed every single soldier. The Lakota were called violent. Newspapers said the Lakota massacred the soldiers. The spin on their response to the violent invasion of their territory was used to justify a war with the American people– The First Great Sioux War.

Julie Ellingson, NDSA Executive Vice President was asked for details including where, when, which ranchers, or for photos and stated, “This is an active investigation and those details cannot be disclosed at this time as law enforcement work the case.”

When asked how long it took for thirty cows to go missing, Ellingston said, “Sorry, but I do not know the answer, as that is something that the investigators gather in their case files.”

Four days later, the Sheriff again referenced the missing cows on his Facebook page, this time increasing the number of dead horses to two and reassuring the public that social media rumors that the cows had been found were entirely off base.

The cattle rustling was just one of Morton County Sheriff’s attempts to make the public see horns on the Water Protectors.

One of Morton County Sheriff’s favorite tactics is to post videos of local residents complaining about the camps. Generally the videos lack any direct interaction with Water Protectors – instead conveying stories about neighbors who have interactions.

On one of the Morton County Sheriff’s video posts, an unnamed rancher explained in an interview with Scott Hennen on the radio show “What’s On Your Mind” that he bought a gun to defend himself against Water Protectors after an interaction with a neighbor. “I have a neighbor who lives in the pipeline area and he asked if he needed help, if I would come and help. I said I would.” He continued, “At that point I didn’t really have anything to go help him with. So I proceeded to acquire some stuff.”

He confessed that his only interaction with a Water Protector was watching them change a flat tire.

Even when interactions are direct, the bar for fear seems preposterously low. After having a conversation with a Water Protector, which by his account had no threats in it at all, Jared Ernst, a local farmer, bought guns. He said, “I’ve been carrying a sidearm on me everywhere I go. I have a small revolver that I carry, my wife has started carrying, a bunch of the neighbors have started carrying firearms in their vehicles.”

Even though the geographic region of origin of Water Protectors should play no role in their arrest or charges, the Morton County Sheriff put out a map of where the arrestees were from. In a smacking case of “let’s play jingoism” the sheriff made the tacit argument that it is the outsiders ruining the community and making problems.

The map calls the arrested individuals “professional protestors.” Even though Morton County Sheriff provides no evidence for the professionalism of the protestors, or who is funding them, or why they are called professional protestors – they are called professional.

The professional protestor myth is a new form of racist double speak. Whenever a group of people who are primarily not- white gather to assert their rights – as in the Winters’ Doctrine which assures fresh, clean drinking water to all Native American Nations and the people living in them, the “George Soros Myth” pops up.

The George Soros Myth is essentially that a Jewish guy is sending hapless, mindless, uneducated, unemployed, brown people who are driven only by money to upset the poor white Christian folks and their communities.

Yup – it is a double whammy of dehumanization and racism. It requires the speaker and the listener to believe Jewish people want to upset their communities and that brown people are so stupid, and mindless that they would do anything for money – including upsetting poor, innocent people.

It also requires both the listener and the speaker of the myth to accept that white people have an inherent right to have their realities stay exactly the way they want it and it is morally wrong for Jewish people or brown people to assert rights or pay people to assert rights which upset their inherent right to keep things status quo.

For a group of people who in general voted for Trump to further free market capitalism – the idea people would get paid as a way to express market values – like clean water or equal pay – is a monumental act of hypocrisy.

The map is nothing more than a tantrum that the superiority of white people might be challenged in North Dakota and its development was paid for by a public law enforcement official.

And why? It serves no formal law enforcement purpose. It does however serve an important social purpose.

LaRae Meadows is a freelance writer, who has been embedded at Standing Rock.

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