Amy Goodman showed up on Monday at the Morton County Courthouse in North Dakota. It was her intention to plead not guilty to a charge of participating in a riot. The riot charge was a result of Goodman and her news show, Democracy Now!, recording a protest of the Dakota Access pipeline by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Native tribe. Instead, the judge refused to sign the charge, maintaining that ‘probable cause’ that the journalist participated in a riot did not exist.
After this unexpected victory, Goodman appeared outside of the courthouse to speak to 200 supporters who showed up in her behalf. She said:
The state’s attorney was attempting to stop journalism. The state’s attorney must respect freedom of the press and the First Amendment.
The coverage that the prosecutor was trying to suppress was Goodman’s report on the events of September 3rd. At that time, she recorded private security guards using pepper spray and dogs to attack native protesters, also known as water protectors.
In front of Monday’s crowd, the journalist reiterated what happened on the 3rd:
The Dakota Access pipeline was actually actively excavating at that moment on this holiday weekend. [The water protectors] urged the bulldozers to stop. The security guards came out with their dogs and pepper spray. The dogs bit the protesters. Democracy Now! videotaped the bloody dog with blood dripping from his mouth and his nose, biting not only protesters, or protectors, the land and water protectors, but the Native Americans’ horses, as well. These images went viral. Fourteen million people, almost immediately, saw these images around the world.
Authorities apparently didn’t care for the image that was being projected globally. Prosecutors attempted to intimidate Goodman and other journalists who might have the effrontery to report on events as they happen. Outside the courthouse on Monday, the intimidation was on full display.
Photographer Rob Wilson, who has been at the water protectors’ encampment to capture images of the protest, snapped a picture of riot police grabbing an elderly water protector. The man was there to support Goodman. It’s clear from the photo who constitutes the real threat to democracy.
The journalist gave the water protectors their due in her statement, saying that too often, Native people are alone on the front lines, fighting for climate justice:
I want to thank everybody for being here, for showing up, for standing up for freedom of the press. And standing up for freedom of the press goes beyond journalism. Freedom of the press is about the public’s right to know. That right to know is sacred…
When you hear someone speak for themselves—a Lakota grandmother, an Ojibwe grandchild—it breaks down barriers. It challenges the caricatures and stereotypes that fuel the hate groups. It is so important that we open up this dialogue.
But the police, in full riot gear, were interested in a show of force, not dialogue.
However, neither Goodman nor the demonstrators were intimidated. For her part, the journalist vowed to continue her coverage. And the water protectors have been facing riot police for months, at every turn. More than 200 tribes “from Latin America to the United States to Canada,” have gathered at the encampment and conduct themselves peacefully. Nevertheless, the riot police are ever-present.
However, the mainstream media is not ever-present. Amy Goodman confronted their absence in her statement on Monday:
The important role of a journalist is to go to where the silence is. We should not be alone in the major media coming to cover this historic unification of Native Americans from more than 200 tribes, from Latin America to the United States to Canada. All of the media should be there, given the scope of this struggle. And we encourage all of the media to come here. We certainly will continue to cover this struggle. It’s not only to protect the water and land rights, but it’s covering your right to speak, to be heard.
The struggle will only get more difficult from here. While Democracy Now! will continue it’s coverage, the encampment is digging in for a hard winter. Rob Wilson, who took these photos, is just one of many who left their everyday life behind in order to participate in this epic, but vital, attempt to protect clean water.
Unfortunately, movement toward that goal is being met with significant resistance and a flexing of powerful muscles. One of Goodman’s lawyers, Reed Brody, told the New York Times:
It’s hard to see what the State of North Dakota gains by charging a reporter with a crime for doing her work. If the attempt is to prevent people from talking about the Dakota Access pipeline, it certainly has not worked out for them.
There is the problem: it is hard to see what the State of North Dakota gains from their aggression in bringing a riot charge, though one could guess. Fortunately, Amy Goodman and the water protectors are there to make the situation transparent for us all.
All photos are the work of Rob Wilson Photography and appear with Mr. Wilson’s permission.