The Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline has, in recent days, been targeted by violence. As reported by Vogue, protesters were attacked with concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and water cannons – in freezing temperatures – the evening of November 20. Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II has called the measures taken by law enforcement agencies at the site of the protest “a clear escalation of violence.”
Though there have been many incidents of injuries at the Standing Rock protest, among the most dramatic is the case of Sophia Wilansky, an environmental activist from New York. According to The Guardian, Wilansky reports being struck at close range with a concussion grenade. The injury is so severe that she may lose her arm, and in the best case scenario, will have very limited functionality in that arm. North Dakota law enforcement officials claim that Wilansky and a group of Standing Rock protesters were tampering with a vehicle and set off an explosion on their own, a claim that is refuted by Wayne Wilansky, Sophia Wilanksy’s father.
“She wasn’t near the truck at the time it happened and was backing away while being shot with rubber bullets,” he said.
“While backing away and trying not to be hit with the bullets the grenade was thrown directly at her and it exploded on her arm.”
The escalation of violence at the Standing Rock protest, and the low level of mainstream media coverage of the protest itself, is deeply troubling. But, if we turn to the history of the United States, it is sadly far from unprecedented. Below are but a few dramatic examples in American history of protest movements being suppressed with violence.
The Ludlow Massacre
On April 20, 1914, thousands of coal miners around the area of Ludlow, Colorado, were on strike. Many of these miners were immigrants from Greece, Serbia, and Italy, and they were striking for a 10-cent raise, an eight-hour work day, and the right to trade outside of the company-owned store, a company owned by the Rockefeller family. All of these demands were consistent with existing Colorado law, but these laws remained unenforced. The companies had initially hired private security to suppress the protest, something that has also occurred at the Standing Rock protest when private security forces unleashed attack dogs on protesters.
By April 20, however, the strike had dragged on for months, and striking miners around Ludlow were encamped with their families around the mining sites, similar to at Standing Rock. The Colorado National Guard had been called in, and that day a confrontation occurred, described in some depth in a piece in The New Yorker. In an attempt to evict the camp, the National Guard set it ablaze and exchanged gunfire with the strikers. By dawn, 66 men, women, and children lay dead. Two of the women and 11 children were found burned to death in an infirmary.
Law enforcement plans to evict the Standing Rock protest camp December 5.
Wounded Knee, 1973
In an incident of particular relevance to the Standing Rock protest, members of the American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for 71 days in 1973. The American Indian Movement had staged several occupations in the previous years in protest of the failure of the federal government to uphold treaties signed with indigenous tribes. The site was chosen, first, because of it’s historical significance; in 1890, three hundred members of the Sioux tribe were massacred by the United States Seventh Cavalry there. Second, Pine Ridge was among the poorest places in the United States.
By the end of the occupation, two members of AIM had been killed by federal officials with many more wounded. The protesters surrendered on the condition that their issues would be addressed. The leaders of AIM were arrested, but later exonerated, according to History, because of “the U.S. government’s unlawful handling of witnesses and evidence.”
Selma, Alabama: “Bloody Sunday”
In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, civil rights activists were organizing voter registration drives and protesting the local government’s refusal to permit black citizens to vote. On February 17, a protester named Jimmy Lee Jackson was shot and killed by an Alabama state trooper at a peaceful demonstration near the county courthouse. In response, a peaceful march was scheduled from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery on Sunday, March 7.
The march got as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama river on their journey. There they were met by local police and Alabama state troopers, who ordered them to turn around. When they refused, law enforcement fired tear gas into the crowd and charged them with clubs. In the ensuing violence, more than 50 protesters were hospitalized, according to Black Past.
The Kent State Shootings
On May 4, 1970, students at Kent State University in Ohio organized a protest on campus to protest the Vietnam War and the recent announcement by then President Richard Nixon of the invasion of Cambodia. Protests had been going for several days on the campus and in the city of Kent proper, and the Ohio National Guard had been called in. On May 4, the National Guard troops lined up along a hill above the location of the protest and called on the students to disperse. When the students refused, the Guardsmen threw tear gas into the crowd. Reports indicate that the protesters threw the tear gas canisters back, perhaps along with stones. The National Guard then opened fire with live ammunition into the crowd, killing four and wounding nine, according to CBS News.
These above are only a few of the many such incidents throughout the United States history. The Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline has now joined their ranks. The situation at Standing Rock, however, is not over. It is not closed to history. At the Standing Rock protest, the encampment continues, despite being given an ultimatum to leave by December 5. The use of concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and water hoses in freezing temperatures may seem non-violent measures, but any of these can easily lead to severe injury, which they already have at Standing Rock, or death. A resolution must be found before the Standing Rock protest joins the ranks of the darkest chapters in American history – the use of violence to suppress peaceful protest.
[Featured Image by James MacPherson/AP Images]