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November 19, 2012

Keystone XL Pipeline Protesters Pepper Sprayed by Cherokee County Sheriffs

Posted in: Climate Change,Environmental activism,Police,Right to Dissent

Blockader dragged away by police after being extracted (Photo by Laura Borealis)

This morning four people Nacogdoches, Texas, “locked themselves to heavy machinery used along the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline route, according to the Tar Sands Blockade group. The action interrupted and halted ongoing pipeline construction until police pepper sprayed the blockaders and were able to arrest and remove them in flexicuffs.

The action was planned in “solidarity with local landowners struggling to protect their water and land from TransCanada’s toxic tar sands pipeline.” As the four locked themselves to machinery, three other people attempted to launch a “new tree blockade at a crossing of the Angelina River.” They climbed onto a tree platform suspended from fifty foot pine trees with “life lines anchored to heavy machinery” to block TransCanada’s construction.

After about one hour and a half, police placed one blockader in flexicuffs and arrested the blockader. The police then, about a half hour later, pepper sprayed two people locked to heavy machinery. Those sprayed responded by “singing loudly,” according to an update on the Tar Sands Blockade website.

The police followed that up by placing a second person in flexicuffs and under arrest. They brutalized the two remaining blockaders. When taken away, one blockader was reportedly dragged and in “extreme pain.” Additionally, the police refused to “clean pepper spray out of the eyes of the other arrested blockader or provide him with water.”

The Cherokee County Sheriffs then moved on to extracting the three people, who had attempted to launch a tree blockade. The sheriffs shook the support lines for one of the platforms in the trees, even though there was a risk that Lizzy, one of the tree blockaders, could fall. Supporters were cleared from underneath the tree-sit as the sheriffs called in a cherry picker to get the blockaders down.

Demonstrators on the ground tried to block the cherry picker from getting in position to extract the tree blockaders. The driver would not stop and almost drug a supporter underneath the cherry picker. Police then began to “indiscriminately” spray people in their face. They hit Jordan Johnson, a twenty-two year old woman from Nacogdoches and Jeanette Singleton, a seventy-five year old woman who has a heart condition. (The officer, who pepper sprayed supporters, would not identify himself.)

In total, the Cherokee County Sheriffs arrested four blockaders, who had locked themselves to heavy machinery. Three others were arrested at the ground blockade and tree blockade in addition to the arrests. (The local ABC News affiliate reported one blockader was arrested when trying to deliver water to people locked to machinery.)

Later in the day, it was reported that Lizzy and Ben, both tree blockaders, were “strip-searched by police after being arrested and taken into custody.” Lizzy’s piercings were “aggressively removed” by police. The flexicuffs on Lizzy were so tight that she cried and begged for them to be loosened by police. They left marks on her wrists.

The Tar Sands Blockade has no idea what offenses they will be charged with committing. They cannot be released until after they see a judge tomorrow.

Jordan Johnson, 22, pepper sprayed by police (Photo by Laura Borealis)

According to the Cherokee County Sheriffs, their use of force should not be seen as taking sides:

“We don’t have a dog in the fight as far as what’s right or what’s wrong,” Captain John Ranfield of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office said. “You know we are here to protect property and people.”

After Deputies moved the protesters off the property, law enforcement officers lined the fence to keep the protester’s on the road’s right-of-way instead of private property.

It is simply disingenuous to pretend they are some kind of unbiased arbitrator merely enforcing the law. Captain Ranfield even said they were there to protect property. The protesters are trying to stop TransCanada from building a toxic pipeline on land they have claimed they have some right to destroy for their own business interests. The police in Texas cities are on the side of TransCanada. They have off-duty officers working for TransCanada to protect construction from being disrupted by protesters. And, police have graciously done the bidding of TransCanada, even though the multinational corporation is abusing eminent domain to seize private property from land owners.

Finally in other cities, demonstrations took place. San Francisco held a solidarity action was held outside a Canadian consulate. In Minneapolis, a “No Pipeline” banner was dropped. In Palm Beach, FL, multiple protesters were arrested at Deutsche Bank, a financier of the pipeline.

At McKenna, Long and Aldridge, the main lobbying firm of TransCanada, demonstrators who call themselves the “Commonluck Theater of Dramatic Nourishment” delivered cookies to try and change their mind about the pipeline. In Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, a solidarity action was held. People in Burlington, Vermont held banners to protest all pipelines, including plans by Vermont Gas to pump gas from underneath Lake Champlain and ExxonMobil’s plans to build a New England tar sands pipeline.

Below are statements from protesters who participated in the action today. 

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