1. JAIL SUPPORT
We track arrests of water protectors at actions resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock encampments, and bail/bond those in need of financial assistance out of jail, sometimes from as many as 5 different county jails across the state. We attend bond hearings and support attorneys who provide legal consultations. We then help water protectors find the resources they need - food, housing, clothing, medical care, travel back to camp, etc.
As of late January 2017, we have successfully bonded approximately 600 people out of jail without any major problems, despite the State’s trumped-up charges and inflated bonds. We have also retrieved over 50 vehicles from the impound lot.
As gray area situations arise (e.g. a water protector is pulled over by law enforcement and detained for a traffic violation but were they targeted for their role in the movement?) we make discretionary decisions about the use of legal defense funds according to our consensus process.
Given resource limitations and time constraints, it is not always possible to immediately bond out all individuals arrested at a given action and in need of financial assistance. When forced to make choices about who is bonded first, the jail support team uses the following guiding principles, listed in no particular order. We prioritize individuals who:
Are injured or have medical needs
Face immigration holds or have other immigration status issues
Have children for whom they are primary caregivers
Have special mental health needs
Have other emergencies
The following factors are also considered:
- Risk of abuse or victimization in jail, including but not limited to: people with disabilities; youths or elders; Two-Spirit, transgender, or LGBTQ people; Indigenous or POC people, etc.
- Proximity to structural violence and oppression
Special health needs such as pregnancy, chronic medical conditions, or regular treatments
Dependents or other family members who may be harmed by the individual’s detention
Anticipated impact of detention on individual’s employment, housing, educational attainment, and/or custodial rights
An individual’s ability to pay bond, including access to family or community resources
The amount of bond to be paid and the likelihood that bond will be reduced at a court hearing
An individual’s existing support system, such as a family member who has committed to providing assistance making court dates and/or other forms of support
2. COURT SUPPORT
We facilitate and fund travel and lodging for arrestees traveling to and from the encampments at Standing Rock, or returning to North Dakota for court dates from their homes across the continent, but without sufficient financial resources. We help them find high-quality attorneys and help them navigate the court system (e.g. what are the different steps in the criminal proceedings, how does one apply for a public defender, who does one contact to waive an appearance at a court date, etc).
We coordinate court support by connecting co-defendants to one another, especially those arrested at the same action or incident, and facilitating court solidarity strategies. Our goal is always to foster solidarity and self-determination among arrestees. No one should make decisions about water protectors' cases except the water protectors themselves, and our job is to make sure those decisions are as informed as possible.
We also mobilize public support at court appearances, develop and distribute media content, and host public events to help build support for water protectors in the court of public opinion.
3. CRIMINAL DEFENSE
We have a team of organizers on the ground in Mandan and Bismarck that help recruit, vet, and coordinate the criminal defense attorneys representing water protectors. We are currently seeking additional attorneys to join the effort, especially since the Supreme Court's recent decision to open doors for out-of-state attorneys to represent water protectors in North Dakota courts. Please contact us using this short form if you are a licensed criminal defense attorney with a desire to come to ND and be part of this movement. Note that the Supreme Court decision requires that all out of state attorneys practicing pro hac vice in water protector cases do so pro bono, but that expenses can be reimbursed.
We provide funding for attorney fees and expenses, for water protectors without sufficient resources to hire their own lawyers and/or inadequately served by court appointed counsel.
We also contracted with the National Jury Project to conduct a public survey that documents the profound and pervasive degree of bias among Morton County and Burleigh County residents, which makes it essentially impossible to build an unbiased jury in that area. The survey found that 77% of the juror-eligible population in Morton County and 85% of the juror-eligible population in Burleigh County had already pre-judged the defendants as guilty. The NJP submitted the results of this survey as an affidavit in support of a Motion to Change Venue, which if granted would move all water protector court proceedings to a less biased part of ND. We have also contracted with NJP to conduct a second survey in the Fargo area (Cass County) in hopes that it is less biased.
We work with several partner groups to educate and train within grassroots movements as well as in surrounding and connected affected communities. For those involved in resistance, we offer trainings, resources, and educational materials on legal rights, anti-repression, security, and strategies and practices of solidarity. We also organize public events to engage affected communities and create new bonds of understanding, support, respect, and mutual aid. In every case, our goal is to build power and camaraderie amongst people to help them act directly, collectively, and autonomously to better their lives and keep each other safe. Check out our "Resources" page for lots of useful information.