A View from Standing Rock: Arrestee Speaks Out Against Police Repression of Dakota Pipeline Protesters

Photo: Protesters march against the Dakota Access pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo by Andrew Cullen / Reuters

On Monday, October 10, Alder of Madison, Wisconsin and Toward Freedom board member Rebecca Kemble was arrested at the Standing Rock Reservation where protests are ongoing against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Charged with four misdemeanors, Kemble spent the night in an overcrowded jail. As the situation on the reservation escalates, TF reached out to Kemble to share her experience and get her take on the significance of the Standing Rock protests.

Toward Freedom: What were you doing out in Standing Rock and was this your first time visiting the reservation?

Rebecca Kemble: Yes, this was my first time visiting Standing Rock. I went out there on a little mini-vacation with my husband and dog… We drove out to hit Standing Rock, the mission being to deliver the parchment of [the city of Madison’s] resolution “Expressing Solidarity with Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline” to the Standing Rock Sioux tribal Chairman, David Archambault II. That was my mission. We were carrying supplies and goods from the community: tools, food, medicine, prayer materials, cooking instruments…

It was indigenous people’s day, October 10, and [after attending a sunrise ceremony] there was an Argentinian Youth group there who was going to be performing [and other people] representing the Congo from the south. And then a couple of native people from the Arctic Circle were going to be performing their song and drumming…

…When we got there I had already been videotaping because the scenery was beautiful, it was daybreak… I was kind of blissed out you know, after the first ceremony and just the natural beauty. Just before we got there we started hearing the helicopters. So I started videotaping the helicopters, kind of getting into reporter mode…

…The ceremony happened, it was beautiful, and at the end of it—the whole time I was on the edge of the crowd scanning the horizon for police vehicles—and sure enough finally they came. They came screaming down a dirt road to the south, heading east to highway 6… There were a dozen squad cars and a bus full of people…

So while my camera is trained on them, I can hear the MC at the ceremony saying, “Okay guys. The police are coming. I know there’s a few people here who are gonna go into prayer, and prepare themselves to take an arrest for trespassing. If you don’t want to be arrested please leave, and leave peacefully. Go back to your cars. Go back to the public right of way. Do it in peace and love for the water.”

He did mention that we have a police liaison up there that will talk to the police and let them know people are leaving, but that there are a few people staying under the tepee structure. There were about sixteen people set up under the tepee.

TF: And that was right by the trench there that had been dug for the Dakota pipeline?

RK: Not a trench; sort of a wide excavated path. [The tepee] was on the path… That was where the [ceremony] happened.

People started to leave. I moved to the side of the scene where I could get a good angle on the police. As the police came in, they did not speak to the police liaison. If they did, it was not meaningful conversation. In fact, they arrested him. He was the first arrest. They continued walking down in sort-of military style in three or four different groups, forming lines… between the tepee and the rest of the people.

…I went over to where I could get a good vantage point… The person who was commanding the line near the tepee had a megaphone and all of a sudden he said, “If we touch you, you’re under arrest.” And the line took one step forward. I was totally unprepared for this. I started backing up… but I was kept in by the pipes [that were stacked next to the excavation path].

…They said it again: “If we touch you you’re under arrest.” Then the guy with the megaphone ran at me, grabbed me, another deputy came, one of them grabbed my hand with my camera, and then they put my hands behind my back and shoved me back behind the line towards the tepee.

…My hands were behind my back with the camera in my hands, and I was fiddling with it to make sure the viewfinder was closed so it wouldn’t be damaged, and then he yelled at me. “Now you’re under arrest for destruction of evidence.” They took the camera out of my hands, zip-tied me, and were pushing me over to where other people who had been arrested were standing.

I told the deputy very calmly, “I will comply peacefully with your verbal commands. You do not have to push me.” Apparently that, or something else, got me an additional charge of resisting arrest, in addition to the other two charges that everyone else got which were inciting a riot and criminal trespassing. So I’m facing four charges and up to two years in jail.

TF: Where were you taken after being zip-tied at Standing Rock, how long were you kept there, and how were you treated?

RK: We went to jail… I, personally, was strip-searched and made to take out my braids… I felt like it was an attempt to humiliate us. I was told to take off all my clothes, to squat and cough… They said I could have my underpants back, but no bra, because it had underwires… And again, this was for misdemeanor charges… When we complained about having to be barefoot, not having socks, not having blankets, feeling cold, one deputy said, “This is a jail built for 40 people and there’s 80 people in here now.”

TF: Are you taking actions to fight the charges?

RK: I have a lawyer who will be filing motions to dismiss my charges after Morton County has responded to our motion for discovery. Once cleared of the charges, which I fully expect I will be, I will take legal action against Morton County.

TF: Why do you think the police are using force against the peaceful protesters?

RK: …They’re trying to provoke people, I believe, with some of their actions. Including arresting the daughter of the woman, LaDonna Brave Bull, who started the Sacred Stone Camp—arresting her as a passenger in a vehicle, taking her to jail, strip searching her in front of three male deputies and leaving her in a jail cell naked overnight. These are provocative actions directly designed to get people angry and provoke a violent response.

What law enforcement and Dakota Access Pipeline people don’t realize is the depth of commitment of peace, ceremony and prayer that the water protectors have. It’s profound. They have been preparing themselves since February in ceremony and prayer, to protect their water; to protect their sacred sites and their land. And they’re doing it in a fiercely, fiercely committed, peaceful way.

…It feels like [the police officers] are preparing to go to war against a relatively small number of peaceful people who just want clean water. They just want their grandmothers’ and grandfathers’ graves undisturbed. They just want a fair, open process for consultation with tribal enemies. They just want a solid environmental impact review…

TF: What actions can the public take going forward?

RK: Put pressure on the people running for U.S. senate right now… Bring the pipeline up as an issue. Bernie Sanders got four other senators to join him in writing a letter to Obama begging him to stop [the pipeline]… Get them to sign that letter. [Ask them,] why didn’t you sign that letter?

LaDonna Brave Bull has said wherever you are, go to your water, sit with your water—with your rivers, streams, lakes, puddles—whatever watershed you’re in… go there, spend time there, pray for it.

Something else, if people can travel out there to witness, we need as many witnesses as we can… They don’t want people to see what’s happening, so go out there with cameras, go out there with video.

TF: What happened to the footage from your camera? Is that in police custody?

RK: My camera is in police custody. It’s being held as evidence. I saw it on the ground after I was zip-tied… I don’t know if it’s damaged. When it was in my possession it was fine. If they give it back to me and it’s broken, if there is any footage missing from the video, then that’s just another claim on my lawsuit against them.

For solidarity and support for Standing Rock, visit http://standingrock.org/

Follow Rebecca Kemble’s blog at: https://www.cityofmadison.com/council/district18/blog/

Thomas Rose is a young writer from New England and an intern at TowardFreedom.com. He can be reached at trose17[at]gmail.com.