Protestors arrested, bystanders pepper-sprayed in Whiteclay dispute

By Chris Davis / KOTA-TV News / August 26, 2012

An estimated 150 to 200 people came together in Pine Ridge early Sunday afternoon and walked the two miles to Whiteclay, Neb.

The march was part of a protest against alcohol distributors in the small town selling to Oglala Sioux Tribal members from the otherwise dry Pine Ridge Reservation.

But the real demonstration started when they got to Whiteclay.

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“The only way our people are heard is when we take it to a drastic level,” said protestor Vic Camp.

That’s why five protestors from Deep Green Resistance, an international group, locked arms in the middle of Highway 87 in Whiteclay.

“They asked to be given a little bit of time to settle the situation,” said Terry E. Robbins, Sheriff of Sheridan County in Nebraska.

That was after the situation escalated to the point of arrests.

One minor involved in the protest was cited for a weapons violation and released to his mother, but not before bystanders say they caught face-fuls of pepper spray.

“As I was filming from behind the cop car,” said protestor William Matchett, “the window came down and he held out his mace can and sprayed another youth right full in the face who wasn’t a threat to him, who was just trying to talk to the officer.”

One accidental victim was a 10-year-old boy.

“That’s a problem with deploying mace,” Sheriff Robbins said. “You can’t control it once it comes out of the container.”

Collateral damage or not, he said from the information he has, the use of pepper spray was probably justified.

“Mace is not de-escalation,” one protestor told him.

Demonstrators say neither is pushing through crowds with a police cruiser, another incident that occurred after police had arrested the minor with the knife.

Regardless of the tension, though, the demonstration against liquor stores that some report move upwards of 12,000 cans of beer a day in a 14-person town remained largely calm.

“Keep it peaceful,” Camp told the group. “I don’t want any of our relatives, any more of us, to go to jail.”

But that’s exactly what the DGR protestors on the highway were prepared for.

“You’re in violation of a lawful order,” a Nebraska State trooper told the five seated in the roadway. “And as such, you’re subject to arrest.”

Law enforcement made good on that at around 8:15 p.m., about seven hours after the protestors first sat down.

An organizer on the scene told us the five were arrested and carted off — still locked together — in a horse trailer.

Information on charges and where they’re being held wasn’t immediately available.

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