More than three dozen protesters were arrested Tuesday while blocking traffic after a demonstration in lower Manhattan against the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
The demonstration was one of more than 250 across the country in a coordinated day of action against the proposed 1,172-mile pipeline, which would stretch from North Dakota to southern Illinois. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved the project in July but the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has sued the Corps, saying the pipeline runs across land that is historically and economically important to the tribe. In New York, more than 650 demonstrators gathered in Thomas Paine Park, which is across the street from the New York office of the Corps.
After several speeches and musical interludes over the first hour and a half of the event, Crystal Migwans of NYC Stands With Standing Rock called upon protesters who had attended pre-event training the night before to engage in an act of civil disobedience.
“Now is the moment,” said Migwans, signaling a procession of 39 demonstrators to snake through the crowd to block traffic on Lafayette Street, which separates the park from the Army Corps office.
“I think disruption is important,” said Andrea Vocos, 25, a hotel concierge who does community organizing in her free time. “Whatever you need to go to is not as important as whatever this cause is,” she said regarding the tactic of blocking traffic in protest.
Vocos watched from the sidewalk but said that as she and others blocked traffic on Nov. 8 protesting Donald Trump’s election, cabbies and bus drivers were not mad, but honked in solidarity.
“I’m working; I should be making money,” said Freddy Flores, one of the drivers trapped on Lafayette Street by the protesters. Flores moved to the city in 1979 from Ecuador and has driven a cab for 30 years. He said this was not his first such delay. “I don’t get angry,” said Flores. “I have a very good seat three cars from where the action is.”
At the beginning of the rally, about 40 police officers were stationed around the perimeter of the crowd. That number nearly doubled by the time the protesters took to the street at 5:40 p.m., with officers and paddy wagons to the immediate north and south of the human blockade.
The police began playing a recorded warning to the protesters over a loudspeaker: “You are unlawfully in the roadway and obstructing vehicular traffic.” The message went on to state that those who refused to leave the road voluntarily would be “placed under arrest and charged with disorderly conduct.”
About 15 minutes after the road was blocked, officers approached the demonstrators, who were sitting with arms interlocked. One by one, they were pried apart and walked to a nearby paddy wagon as the crowd chanted: “The whole world is watching!”
As the arrested protesters were driven away and traffic resumed, the crowd of police and activists thinned. At about 7 p.m., the remaining 200 or so protesters began a march to police headquarters at 1 Police Plaza, where the arrested activists were taken.
“The action isn’t over until everybody’s out,” said Rob Friedman, 25, who helped organize the protest. Members of the group waited outside 1 Police Plaza until all 39 arrested protesters were released, which took until about 2 a.m., according to Friedman.
On the same day of the protest, the Army Corps of Engineers released a statement announcing it had completed a review of the pipeline project that it began in September, concluding that “The Army has determined that additional discussion and analysis are warranted,” citing several of the concerns voiced by protesters, including the dispossession of native lands.
The last line of the statement also seemed to be in line with the protesters: “We fully support the rights of all Americans to assemble and speak freely, and urge everyone involved in protest or [sic] pipeline activities to adhere to the principles of nonviolence.”