The American Civil Liberties Union and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday asking for an investigation into possible violations of constitutional rights and federal laws by law enforcement responding to peaceful #NoDAPL protesters in North Dakota.
The letter, addressed to Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason, asks that the DOJ immediately suspend law enforcement’s use of “any federally resourced military weapons and equipment” while it investigates the possible violations.
As previously reported on The Root, #NoDAPL protesters in Cannon Ball, N.D., had their camp raided by militarized police Oct. 27. Officers in riot gear showed up with multiple mine-resistant ambush-protected military vehicles, a sound cannon, an armored truck and a bulldozer to evict protesters from a camp that they said was on private property. More than 140 protesters were arrested.
Earlier this week, protesters attempting to conduct a prayer ceremony had rubber bullets and pepper spray shot at them by SWAT team members and various law-enforcement officers.
The ACLU referenced these law-enforcement responses in the letter and said that they were a possible violation of First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, and Fourth Amendment rights that prohibit excessive use of force and unreasonable seizures and searches:
Law enforcement in North Dakota have used armored vehicles, automatic rifles, sound cannons, concussion grenades, attack dogs, pepper spray, beanbag bullets, riot gear, and other offensive military weapons and equipment against organizers and water protectors there. A horse shot by a rubber bullet had to be euthanized. Organizers have been arrested, hooded, tagged with numbers on their arms, strip searched, and detained in dog kennels by law enforcement.
The letter likened the “excessive and militarized response by law enforcement to organizers in Standing Rock” to similar responses in Ferguson, Mo., more than two years ago, and points out that at that time, the DOJ criticized law enforcement in Ferguson for using canine units that “exacerbated tensions by unnecessarily inciting fear and anger” and for using tear gas “inappropriately without warnings.”
“Law enforcement in North Dakota appear to be employing the very tactics that the Department of Justice has cautioned against,” the letter said.
The ACLU asked the DOJ to determine if any of the federally resourced weapons and equipment are being used in a manner inconsistent with “the Department and Interagency Working Group on Federal Equipment (Working Group) policy.”
The ACLU has requested a meeting with the Justice Department to discuss the matter further.
Read more at the ACLU.