Protests Escalate Over Dakota Access Pipeline

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The conflict between protesters and police over the Dakota Access Pipeline escalated Sunday night as protesters set cars on fire and police officers launched tear gas and water at the crowds, CNN reports.

Video captured the chaos on the ground as protesters attempted to cross the Backwater Bridge and go north on Highway 1806, according to the Morton County Sheriff's Department. The sheriff's department described Sunday's events as an “ongoing riot.” Police also say that protesters set fire to two trucks and several parts of the bridge, and “attempted to flank and attack the law enforcement line from the west.” Police describe the actions of the protesters as “very aggressive.” One person has been arrested.

Officers attempted to disperse the crowds with water cannons, an action that was decried by many because of the cold, 28-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. Physicians with the Standing Rock Medic and Healer Council called for “the immediate cessation of use of water cannons” because of concerns about hypothermia in the cold weather conditions. They went on to criticize the “potentially lethal use of these confrontational methods against people peacefully assembled.”

Police argued that the water was used to control the fires and manage the crowd. “There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,” said Donnell Hushka, a spokeswoman for the Morton County Sheriff's Department. “We have fire trucks on the scene, they are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don't spread and they are also using water as crowd control.”

Protests at the site have been simmering for months, leading to clashes over the pipeline, which is set to run over 1,172 miles from North Dakota to Illinois. Protesters argue that the pipeline will threaten the environment and destroy places and artifacts that are significant to Native American life. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says that the pipeline could affect the tribe's drinking water, and put communities downstream from the pipeline “at risk for contamination by crude oil leaks and spills.”

Senator Bernie Sanders recently visited the protesters and voiced his own opposition to the pipeline, citing the rights of Native Americans and climate change.

Construction on the pipeline has not yet begun, and has been delayed by the Army Corps of Engineers in order to hold further discussion and analysis.

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