In northern Minnesota, a powerful, Indigenous-led movement of water protectors has mobilized against the Line 3 pipeline, which would carry 760,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil per day through Anishinaabe treaty territories, the Lake Superior watershed, and the pristine lakes where the Anishinaabe harvest their sacred wild rice. They are determined to prevent oil from ever flowing through the pipeline because they recognize that we can’t afford to contaminate our water supplies with sludgy tar sands oil, and that the last thing we need is more fossil fuel projects that accelerate the climate crisis. Even as Enbridge races to build Line 3, wildfires supercharged by climate change are tearing through Canada and the Western US, blanketing Minnesota with smoky, unhealthy air.
As they’ve set up encampments and carried out acts of peaceful civil disobedience, water protectors have had to face down a militarized police presence. Indigenous water protectors and allies have been shot at with rubber bullets, tear gassed, buzzed by helicopters, surveilled and followed, and harassed with bogus citations. Police have arrested or given citations to nearly 600 participants in anti-Line 3 actions, sometimes violently, and once in custody, many have faced solitary confinement and been denied medical care.
Sierra Club leaders have witnessed the intensity of the police presence on our visits to the Line 3 camps. Visiting the forests and waterways the pipeline threatens, our members and supporters have been followed by police. Police presence at rallies is heavy, and stopping at a construction site will likely earn you an immediate visit from an officer. During our recent overnight stay, police drove through our public campsite five times in one morning.
Minnesota law enforcement officials studied一and praised一their counterparts’ response to water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline, which included spraying protestors with water cannons in freezing temperatures, shooting them with explosive teargas grenades, and siccing dogs on them. Though violence has not yet reached that pitch in Minnesota, police presence has been escalating as more people arrive at the camps, evoking comparisons to Standing Rock.
As with the Dakota Access Pipeline, local police have been defending a pipeline company’s right to make a profit as the world burns, instead of defending our right to clean air, clean water, and a stable climate. They can draw on an Enbridge-funded pot to cover the costs of responding to the water protectors一and so far, they’ve received over $1 million in reimbursements from the pipeline company. It’s not just pipeline companies’ right to make a profit that police defend一the same big banks that pour money into dirty, dangerous fossil fuel projects also fund police foundations.
What’s happening at Line 3一and the pipeline fights before it一shows that the fights for racial justice and climate justice are inextricable. The same racist system of policing is responsible for everyday violence against Black Americans and the repression faced by water protectors. In both cases, racism works to devalue the lives of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, deeming them disposable, and their communities sacrifice zones. It helps police and pipeline companies to justify the harm they’re doing, whether it’s a knee on the neck or a tar sands pipeline rammed through treaty territories. Only by dismantling the racist systems that produce police brutality, environmental racism, and other forms of harm will we be able to build a world where we all have fresh air to breathe, clean water to drink, safe homes and healthy communities, no matter our race, age, identity, income or zip code.