Protesters who were arrested during demonstrations to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, ND report that they were held in makeshift pens like “dog kennels” for hours and feel “betrayed” by the inhumane treatment they received at the hands of law enforcement.
ABC News said Thursday that the arrested protesters claim they were caged like “zoo animals” by police with numbers written directly on to their forearms like the tattoos on prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.
State officials say that the makeshift holding pens are used for “mass arrests only,” and that every effort was made to treat the protesters humanely.
“The police are supposed to protect people, and the justice system is supposed to, but they were just working for this corporation,” Brendan Rosa, 29, from Kingston, New York said to ABC. Rosa said he was treated “like a zoo animal” during the arrest, which took in 140 protesters.
The energy conglomerate Energy Transfer Partners has sunk $3.8 billion into the Dakota Access pipeline project, which plans to route billions of gallons of crude oil from fracking fields and wells to refineries.
The protesters are blocking construction on a portion of the pipeline’s route that is currently on privately-owned land. Protesters argue that under an 1851 treaty between Native Americans and the U.S. government, the land belongs to the local Native American tribes and is not salable to private entities.
Rosa reported that police wrote each prisoner’s number on their forearm with permanent marker, which protesters said was reminiscent of the tattooing of prisoners in German concentration camps during World War II.
“People were saying that like that is what they did at the Holocaust,” Rosa said.
Arrestees’ hands were zip tied behind them and they were herded into the holding pens at around “15 to 20 people” per 10 foot by 20 foot kennel. There were four enclosures for men and two for women.
State officials defended the use of the pens.
“Temporary holding cells (chain link fences) have been installed into the Morton County Correctional Center and are used for ‘mass arrest’ situations only,” said a statement from the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DOCR).
“They are temporary until the Correctional Center can get them [the people detained in mass arrests] processed into our facility or transferred to another facility in North Dakota,” the statement explained.
The protesters call themselves “water protectors” because they argue that the huge pipeline could rupture like dozens of other pipelines in the U.S. over the last few years, contaminating the tribes’ ground water and rendering the land uninhabitable.
Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II told ABC that local “militarized police” are acting as the enforcement arm of Energy Transfer Partners. Archambault has called on the Department of Justice to “send overseers immediately to ensure the protection of First Amendment rights and the safety of thousands here at Standing Rock.”