Standing Rock Violence & Police Militarization

Kalamaoka’aina Niheu

Democracy Now asked Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Archambault a very important question; where did the incredibly militarized weapons utilized by the Morton County Police come from? While the connection between Climate Change Crisis and Big Oil has increasingly clear darker roots to US Military and the atrocities being revealed by the Black Lives Matter movement have yet to come to light.

The past few decades has seen a massive escalation in the weaponry and lethality of American law enforcement. Neighborhood sheriffs have metamorphasized into an invading military force that treats our communities like war zones and our people like enemies. Due to legal loopholes, there are little to no repercussions for law enforcement officials who injure or kill civilians, even under incredibly dubious circumstances.

Making the connections

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a statement in 2014 that the United States has a problem with racism. Racism manifests as persistent racial profiling, high number of gun-related deaths , laws like “Stand your ground” which disproportionately affect members of racial and ethnic minorities, excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, increasingly militarized approach to law enforcement, and a criminal justice system that disproportionately arrests, incarcerates and subjects to harsher sentences people from racial/ethnic minorities.

What has received less attention is that more than any other peoples, Native Americans are the group most likely to die in confrontations with law enforcement.

Militarization of the Police

Unbeknownst to many, Hawaii is truly an occupied nation and one of the most heavily militarized places on the planet. As Kanaka Maoli, the first peoples of this land, we are intimately familiar with the intensity of militarization. US PACOM, located on O’ahu, is responsible for coordinating American troops over more than 50 percent of the earth’s surface. The area stretches from the west coast of the U.S. to the western border of India, and from Antarctica to the North Pole, encompassing 36 countries, and 20 territories and possessions.

According the U.S. Department of Defense, in 2009, the combined services in Hawaiʻi had 113 military installations for a total of 231,560 acres (U.S. Department of Defense, Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Installations & Environment) Base Structure Report (A Summary of DoD’s Real Property Inventory), Fiscal Year 2010 Baseline.

On Oʻahu, my home, the military controls 22 percent of the island. Tanks and military convoys line our highways, lands filled with unexploded ordnance from military exercises impede our traditional gathering rights, and the booming of war games disturb our fishing on a regular basis.

U.S. Department of Defense, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Report to Congress – Implementation of the Department of Defense Training Range Comprehensive Plan (February 2004).

The military might goes hand in hand with protecting American economic interests abroad. Hawaii itself is often the host for gatherings that marry the two, most notably the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC).

RIMPAC is the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise where military might is displayed, trained, and traded. One of the most horrific is the training of Indonesian military who are currently engaged in active genocide upon the peoples of West Papua.

With the rise of Asia as an economic force, the US is now planning on concentrating more resources to the Pacific in what is known as the Pacific Pivot. http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/the-trans-pacific-partnership-pivot-and-pathway

As one of the most densely militarized places on the planet, demilitarization watchdogs in Hawaii have noted an increasing focus of American military training for residential and urban warfare. In other words, military violence on civilian ground.

That has been mirrored in domestic American law enforcement and has manifested in the increasing militarization of police. According to Pentagon data, since the initiation of the War on Drugs—a war which disproportionately has targeted communities of color—a Federal program has resulted in the transferal of military grade weaponry and supplies to local police departments. More than $5 billion in military surplus have entered communities all across America; tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The tank-like vehicles seen in the Standing Rock incident are examples of these militarized vehicles, referred to as MRAPS, or Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.

Militarization of police has even spilled over into American schools. In Los Angeles alone a quarter of a million dollars worth of military grade weaponry are now in the hands of school police.

The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units. The June 2014 ACLU report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” found that Police SWAT teams are now deployed as high as 40,000 times per year. 79 percent of the time they are utilized to simply deliver search warrants.

Part of the justification for all of this advanced weaponry is that it makes our communities safer. Black and Native communities have too much experience with how American law enforcement has never really been designed to protect us. But even for our allies, research from the The Deciding Force project out of UC Berkeley, shows that they actually cause our communities to be unsafe. The project revealed that police are often the ones who initiate violence during demonstrations.

A Culture of Impunity

Supporters looked on in horror as rubber bullets, concussion grenade, and batons rained down upon unarmed protectors standing the line. Many wondered, how is this tolerated in this day and age?

As advocates of Black and Native Lives Matter have amply demonstrated, for decades, and some would argue hundreds of years, law enforcement has been able to get away with violence against civilians. Structural class and race prejudice combined with lack of oversite has created a culture of impunity.

No one really knows how many people are killed by law enforcement every year because that kind of data isn’t collected

As of October 28, the database “Killed By Police” has documented 950 civilians whose lives have been taken since the beginning of the year.

The Official Department of Justice database of justifiable law enforcement killings admits that it is the highest in two decades. That is probably underestimated severely due to the lack or required reporting. Official numbers only reflect a fraction of the deaths identified by the Killed by Police database.

How did this happen? Currently it’s almost impossible to prosecute police in America due to two US Supreme Court cases; the 1985 Tennessee v. Garner case and the 1989 Graham v. Connor case which combined, results in American courts almost universally deferring to an officer’s subjective assessment of the threat even if clear evidence arises to reveal they were WRONG.

On an even deeper level, America has never shown justice to Native peoples. It has been built upon the consistent and systematic oppression of the First Nations via the theft of land, water, and culture.

Ultimately, what has become increasingly clear at Standing Rock is the lengths at which publicly paid law enforcement is willing to go to in order to protect the private interests of one oil company. To date $6 million of taxpayer monies have been utilized to brutalize a people in order to protect an oil company

Throughout the entire of the horror of the violence of October 27, 2016, construction continued on the Dakota Access Pipeline unabated.

It’s clear that the United States government is unwilling to provide justice to Native Peoples by simply honoring the 1851 Treaty. A Treaty that states that the Dakota Access Pipeline land belongs to the Standing Rock Sioux. 

Indeed, if the US were to have honored all the treaties to the First Nations, this would never have happened in the first place.

Despite the centuries of oppression, it is the Indigenous peoples of the world who continue to stand on the frontlines of every major environmental struggle. Fighting for a future for everyone.

What the world needs to realize is that Standing Rock does not stand alone. The Oceti Sakowin are part of a much larger battle. A battle to protect the Earth and her people in the face of relentless extraction, destruction, and exploitation.

In solidarity from Hawaii. Wai i ke Ola…Water is Life.

Dr. Kalamaoka’aina Niheu is a Kanaka Maoli physician from Hawaii. Born on the frontlines of the Hawaii Independence movement she continues community advocacy, most recently by helping to establish the Standing Rock Medic Healer’s Council. Main convener for Aha Aloha Aina, a Kanaka initiative for traditional governance, she is also on the board of Ahahui o Na Kauka (Native Hawaiian Doctor’s Association), a Medical Officer for Hokule’a, a Hawaii representative to the United Nations, and Kauka for Onipa’a Na Hui Kalo (traditional kalo farmers for Food Sovereignty)

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Tim.Hallrud@Nike.com's picture
Dr. Niheu. This was a very well researched and insightful article. Thank you for sharing so much valuable information about the militarization of the police. The use of military tactics and weapons against peaceful protesters (AKA protectors) is heartbreaking and irresponsible. These honorable people at Standing Rock that are standing against DAPL and should be treated with respect and calmly. Thank you for speaking out!
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