Native American protesters and environmentalists at the site of the Dakota Access pipeline construction are the latest group to document their tense confrontation with law enforcement using Facebook’s livestreaming feature, allowing them to broadcast their struggles to the world and hold police accountable for their actions.
Late on the evening of Oct 27, 141 protesters were arrested after police tried to disperse the crowd, bringing the total up to nearly 400 since the demonstrations began in August. Law enforcement used pepper spray and sound cannons to quash the protests. The Cass County sheriff said in a statement that the demonstrators’ “aggressive tactics include using horses, fire and trying to flank us with horses and people.”
Chairman of the Sioux Standing Rock Tribe called the police tactics disproportionate, and said they included using rubber bullets. Activists said some of the protesters were kept in dog kennels after they were arrested. Protesters took to social media to show police cordons in head-to-toe military gear and armored vehicles on the land where the pipeline is being erected.
Facebook Live has become a tool to bypass the mainstream media in order to spread a message to tens of thousands of viewers in real time. Activists have turned it into a weapon of sorts against law enforcement, using it to force officers to reckon with being watched and recorded at every step—a tactic that has been effective in exposing police brutality against black citizens in several recent high-profile cases.
The Dakota Access pipeline is designed to carry 470,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North and South Dakota to Illinois. Tribal nations and environmentalist groups have joined forces in their fight against the project, which they say would destroy cultural sites, such as burial grounds, and the tribes’ source of drinking water. Several hundred protesters were occupying private land where construction on the pipeline was set to resume on Oct. 28 after a court allowed it to proceed while thousands of others camped out at the Standing Rock Reservation. Police successfully dispersed the crowd the night before, descending on them with Humvees and helicopters. The protesters were pushed to another encampment, and construction restarted as planned, according to CNN.
Actress Shailene Woodley was among the protesters arrested earlier in October and filmed her encounter with the police. The video shows her arguing with officers and yelling to the camera that she was being targeted because she had a wide audience on her live stream.