Update: Case dismissed! On Monday, October 17, District Judge John Grinsteiner rejected the “riot” charge that had been leveled against Amy Goodman for her coverage of a September 3 Dakota Access Pipeline protest. Standing before the Morton County courthouse, surrounded by supporters, Goodman said: “It is a great honor to be here today. The judge’s decision to reject the State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson’s attempt to prosecute a journalist—in this case, me—is a great vindication of the First Amendment.” And she added: “[W]e encourage all of the media to come here. We certainly will continue to cover this struggle.”
This Monday morning, shortly after the sun rises over the small city of Mandan, North Dakota, the award-winning journalist, and host of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman will walk into the Morton County–Mandan Combined Law Enforcement and Corrections Center and turn herself in to the local authorities. Her crime: good, unflinching journalism.
Goodman had the audacity to commit this journalism on September 3, when she was in North Dakota covering what she calls “the standoff at Standing Rock”: the months-long protests by thousands of Native Americans against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion oil pipeline is slated to carry barrel after barrel of Bakken crude through sacred sites and burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, and tribe members fear it could pollute the Missouri River, the source not only of their water but of millions of others’, should the pipe ever rupture. Their protests, which began in April and ballooned through the summer months, represent the largest mobilization of Native American activists in more than 40 years—and one of the most vital campaigns for environmental justice in perhaps as long.
Goodman’s arrival at the main protest site was significant. At the time, not a single one of the major American broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) had sent a reporter to cover the Standing Rock mobilization; none had even bothered to mention it on the air. But there was Goodman, standing at the edge of a grassy plain that was in the process of being churned into gullies of dirt, reporting on one of the most significant stories of the day. Clutching a large microphone, she captured the scene as hundreds of protesters tried desperately to stop a crew of bulldozers from tearing up the earth—the earth, they said, that belongs to nobody—only to be confronted by a force of private security contractors wielding attack dogs and pepper spray.
“People have gone through the fence, men, women, and children,” Goodman reported, her voice taut, then rising, louder and more intense. “The bulldozers are still going, and they’re yelling at the men in hard hats. One man in a hard hat threw one of the protesters down…!”
As Goodman narrated, a security contractor, burly in a deep blue shirt, could be seen belly-flopping a man onto the ground. Protesters streamed in to help him, stumbled over mounds of newly churned dirt, faced off with contractors whose faces were hidden behind oversized sunglasses. The scene was full of movement. Overhead, a helicopter hovered, circled, while back on the ground, protesters began to report burning eyes, and dogs—dogs lurching at protesters, dogs straining against their leashes, dogs with mouths open, mouths biting.