Progressive Christian Social Action
Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success
One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action. We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail. We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials. Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.
Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail. The Freshet Collective also gave us support. They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.
We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial. By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence. The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time. In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.
Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good. Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer. It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines. We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid. And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity. I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.
We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges. This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary. But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota. Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases. After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.
This was a court solidarity success. But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock. The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone. Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately. See more about these cases here.
Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment. See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.
Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally. The fight is not over yet.
Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees. Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective. If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.
As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:
“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”
See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
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