Monday, October 17, 2016

Outrage in North Dakota

It’s sad that the ugly entertainment spectacle we call an election has diverted public attention from what at least some of the mainstream media might have recognized as an important story: the protest by thousands of native Americans against the Dakota Access dirty crude pipeline.

Only one journalist — Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” — was in North Dakota with a camera crew to record the violence against the protesters by private contractors and their attack dogs last Sept. 3. Her horrifying video and reportage were seen by millions and picked up by some of the mainstream TV networks but the entire situation, including the pollution threat to sources of drinking water for millions of people, still has not received the attention it deserves.

Goodman, meanwhile, was charged with criminal trespass for going to a news scene and reporting on it.  This is activity that is specifically protected by the First Amendment.  She flew to Bismarck Friday and traveled to Mandan, N.D. early today to turn herself in to authorities, face and fight the charges.  She was informed that the prosecutor, Ladd Erickson, had dropped the class B misdemeanor trespassing charge and would instead be filing some sort of riot charge.  It had not been filed as this post is being written.

Goodman delivered her morning broadcast from a lawn across the street from the Morton County court house, where the new charges, if any, would be filed.  

Erickson wasn’t talking today, nor did he respond to messages left by news organizations.  But, a la Trump, he had a lot to say after Goodman’s shocking report aired online.  Goodman, he said, was “a protester basically.”  He asserted that everything she reported “was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”

However, the affidavit he filed with the trespass charges said, “Goodman can be seen on video identifying herself and interviewing protesters about their involvement in the protest.”  Psst.  Ladd, baby; that’s what reporters do.  They identify themselves and their news organization and they interview participants in the news event.

It’s called journalism, Ladd.  And it is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has contended in a court filing that the pipeline route desecrates  burial grounds and other sacred sites.  Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II said Goodman’s reporting “took a lot of courage,” and opposition to the pipeline wouldn’t be where it is today without her reporting.

Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas for the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists in New York,  said Goodman was clearly working as a journalist when she filmed the Sept. 3 incident, and the committee is “really concerned” about the potential rioting charge. “I think authorities in North Dakota should drop the charges and ensure that all reporters are free to do their jobs without fear of reprisal or intimidation,” Lauría told the Fargo Forum newspaper.

In North Dakota, trespassing is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. Inciting a riot is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.  Ladd Erickson clearly wants to inflict all the pain he can on the uppity journalist who dared to report on the injustice in his back yard.

Someone in North Dakota should give him a copy of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and suggest that he study it.


North Dakota District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected today the riot charge Erickson sought against Goodman.  The judge, at least, is familiar with the First Amendment.

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