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Mr. President, Protect the Water Protectors

POSTED: November 22, 2016, 7:00 am

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The scene unfolding in North Dakota in the protest against an oil pipeline is reminiscent of the treatment of civil rights protesters in the south during Jim Crow. It is why the inaction of President Obama is inexcusable. The President must act immediately and federalize the National Guard and send them into Morton County to enforce protestors constitutional rights. The sight of law enforcement officers blasting human beings with water cannons in freezing temperatures is inhumane and offensive to those in this country who stand for decency and justice. If there were ever a time for a President to act, the time is now.

This moment is bigger than the current conflict at Standing Rock. This protest is symbolic of the hundreds of years of abuse the community of First Americans have endured – from having their sacred lands stolen, their people murdered with government sanction, their culture obliterated and their history debased and successive generations demoralized. It is a history marked by the worst human rights violations of any people that have populated this country, and that includes the enslavement of Africans and abuse of African-Americans in my estimation. American Indians have been systemically targeted, violently disposed of and efficiently and wickedly subjugated.

Standing Rock and the issue of the Dakota Access pipeline is symbolic of a history of oppression of our First Americans. As a Black person, an African-American descendant of slaves, it pains my conscience to see what is taking place in North Dakota and shames my silence. And as one who believes in God, it leads me to believe that what my native sisters and brothers are enduring is not pleasing in the sight of the Creator. This is a moment for moral clarity. It is why people of good will need to make their voices heard and demand the federal government provide protection to the protesters. And more than that, we must demand that this project is shut down. It is just the latest encroachment upon native lands and the latest example of corporate indifference to human life.

There has been a steady stream of misinformation from the Morton County sheriff’s officer in an attempt to turn public opinion against the protesters. Local law enforcement claim “professional protesters” are inciting violence,setting fires and harassing officers and their families. It is a typical effort to sow confusion and distract from the very legitimate grievances of the aggrieved. Just as appalling is the scant coverage the nation’s press and television outlets are giving to the tragedy that is unfolding in North Dakota. Eyewitness accounts of the scene at Standing Rock paint a very different picture. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people of good will have traveled to North Dakota to stand with American Indians who have assembled to stop the pipeline project. Local law enforcement is taking a page from the Bull Connor playbook and acting with brute force and in support of, if not in concert with, a private developer against the interests of the very people who rightfully claim title to the land.

At the root of this conflict is the insistence of Energy Transfer Partners, the company developing the project, that this pipeline must be built despite the objections of Standing Rock Sioux that by building it just a mile next to their reservation it could pollute water and defile sacred cultural sites. The response to the claims of the Sioux has been consistent with the historical treatment of First Americans. It cannot be accepted in the 21st century.

I encourage you to contact the Morton County North Dakota sheriff’s office. The telephone number is 701 667-3330. Demand that county officers stand down and respect the constitutional rights of the protesters. And after you make that call, your next call should be to the White House and demand that President Obama send the National Guard to Standing Rock to protect the protesters and the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The number for the White House is 202 456-1111 or 202 456-1414. You can also contact your member of the House of Representatives or your Senators to express your outrage over the actions of law enforcement in Standing Rock.

With just weeks left in office President Obama has an opportunity to send a message to the nation and set an example for his successor, no matter how little faith many people have that the 45th president will protect civil and human rights. Perhaps that is an incentive for our current President to take a stand at this moment – to show the world that even in this transition of power, the Office of the President has standing and the nation’s elected leader has a responsibility and moral obligation to hold up its ideals.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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