Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies were front and center on Thursday as law enforcement made a move to force Dakota Access Pipeline protesters off a parcel of private land.
Clashes between law enforcement and protesters amounted to the most eventful day yet in the western North Dakota protest, which dates back to April. At least 141 protesters were arrested by night's end, according to the Guardian (U.K.), though that number may climb: Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said still more activists were in custody, awaiting processing.
Cops say those protesters were arrested for damage to pipeline property and building illegal roadbloacks, and explained Thursday's action as an eviction of the protesters from privately owned land.
The thousands of Native American activists gathered there say that private land lies a little too close -- about a half-mile -- to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, threatening that community's water and disrespecting sacred sites. Thursday's action by law enforcement pushed protesters off the ground where the pipeline would be built, and back into neighboring camps where many have been staying for months.
The sheriff's office in rural Morton County (population 27,471) has relied heavily on assistance from other agencies, including the National Guard and sheriff's departments from other states, including three from Minnesota: Hennepin County, Anoka County, and Washington County. Those counties say they're merely responding to a declaration of emergency by the North Dakota government, which is paying all costs related to the protest.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has been criticized by liberals in the county he represents, and earlier this week, hundreds marched on Minneapolis City Hall to oppose Stanek's deputies traveling hundreds of miles to assist in fighting the protest. Stanek has said that he "respects the constitutional right of peaceful and lawful protest," apparently a reference to the Minneapolis action, and not the one at Standing Rock.
A video taken by embedded indie news organization Unicorn Riot on Thursday shows numerous Hennepin County deputies on the front lines of Thursday's clashes, wielding batons and pepper spray to force protesters back.
And here's an amateur videographer's Facebook video showing a close-up struggle between some Hennepin County deputies and protesters. Note that one officer here is taking some pretty big cuts with that baton, though it looks like none landed a direct hit on anyone's skull.
In a statement released Thursday, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe chairman Dave Archambault II argued the continued DAPL construction goes against President Barack Obama’s call for further environmental study before the project is approved.
“We need our state and federal governments to bring justice and peace to our lands, not the force of armored vehicles. We have repeatedly seen a disproportionate response from law enforcement to water protectors’ nonviolent exercise of their constitutional rights. Today we have witnessed people praying in peace, yet attacked with pepper spray, rubber bullets, sound and concussion cannons. We urge state and federal government agencies to give this tense situation their immediate and close attention."