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Op-Ed: U.S. journalist faces riot charges after filming pipeline protest

North Dakota state prosecutor, Ladd Erickson, filed the new charges on Friday before District Judge John Grinsteiner. He will decide on Monday (October 17) whether there is enough evidence to pursue the charge. The prosecutor decided earlier to drop a criminal trespassing charge against Goodman. Goodman will appear in court to face the charges if they are approved.

Goodman said: “I came back to North Dakota to fight a trespass charge. They saw that they could never make that charge stick, so now they want to charge me with rioting. I wasn’t trespassing, I wasn’t engaging in a riot, I was doing my job as a journalist by covering a violent attack on Native American protesters.”

Erickson claimed that Goodman was not acting as a journalist in a statement to the Bismarck Tribune. He defended his position in an email that said: “She’s [Amy Goodman] a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.” While her coverage is favorable to the protesters from what can be seen in the appended video, it is also clear that she is acting as a journalist. The fact that a journalist provides coverage that is favorable to one side does not make the person any less a journalist. Perhaps the authorities are unhappy that the security forces are shown in an unfavorable light with dogs being used to drive back protesters and one dog at least having blood on its mouth and nose. One person is shown with a bite. It seems pepper spray was used as well. The Democracy Now report was viewed more than 14 million times on Facebook and was picked up by many major outlets including CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC.

Professor Katherine Franke, chair of the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights said: “Filming Native Americans being violently attacked as they defend their land is not rioting, it’s called journalism, it is protected by the First Amendment, and indeed, it is an essential function in a democratic society.” Such coverage is however embarrassing to the powerful interests supporting the pipeline project so they will do everything they can to discourage such journalism. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe along with over 100 other tribes from all across the U.S., Canada and even Latin America have been protesting the pipeline project for months. The Standing Rock Sioux have their own Facebook page.

Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, an independent, award-winning public television/radio news program. It airs on more than 1,400 stations worldwide. She has won many awards.

Objections to the project come not only from Native American tribes but from U.S. government agencies as well. Senior officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raised serious environmental and safety objections to the North Dakota section of the Dakota Access pipeline. The concerns were dismissed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers who instead based their decision on an environmental assessment of the developer, Dakota Access LLC.

In a letter to the Army Corps in March, Philip Strobel, National Environmental Policy Act regional compliance director for the EPA wrote: “Crossings of the Missouri River have the potential to affect the primary source of drinking water for much of North Dakota, South Dakota and Tribal nations. The U.S. Department of the Interior also spoke out against the project. Lawrence Roberts, acting assistant secretary of Indian affairs wrote in March to the Army Corps: “We believe the Corps did not adequately justify or otherwise support its conclusion that there would be no significant impact upon the surrounding environment and community.”

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) also expressed its concern over the assessment of the Army Corps. The ACHP claimed that the Army Corps did not adequately consult the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. In a May 19 letter to the Army Corps, Reid Nelson, director of the office of federal agency programs for the ACHP wrote: “Based on the inadequacies of the tribal consultation and the limited scope for identification of historic properties that may be affected, the ACHP questions the sufficiency of the Corps’ identification effort, its determinations of eligibility, and assessments of effect.”

The complaints are all echoed by the protesters. It seems that the only way to stop the project was to mount the type of protests that we are seeing now. Although many U.S. officials did their job their objections were simply ignored.

In September a Federal Judge denied an injunction by the tribe to stop construction on the pipeline. However, the U.S. government ordered a halt to construction to further consider the concerns of the Standing Rock Tribe. The situation is complicated by the fact that some of the construction is on private property. As the Globe and Mail reports: Energy Transfer Partners LP is moving forward with construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, rejecting the Obama administration’s request that it voluntarily halt some work on the $3.8-billion (U.S.) project.
The project cannot be completed because other areas are subject to the government order that construction stop.

UPDATE: The riot charges against Goodman have been rejected by a North Dakota judge.

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