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24 Nov, 2016 05:11

DAPL protesters for Sophia Wilansky burn US flag, occupy Times Square

DAPL protesters for Sophia Wilansky burn US flag, occupy Times Square

More than 200 Dakota Access pipeline protesters marched in New York City to honor activist Sophia Wilansky. She purportedly faces possible arm amputation and up to 20 surgeries after pipeline security threw a concussion grenade, which authorities deny.

The activists gathered in New York City’s Columbus Circle at 7 p.m. Wednesday, independent journalist and activist Ashoka Jegroo told RT. In a press release emailed to RT, the protest was described as “a rally of both love and rage: love for our people, and the rage to fight for a better world.”

Organized by a“black liberation group” group called NYC Shut It Down which holds weekly Peoples’ Monday protests, described the demonstration as a “vigil and solidarity action for Sophia and all the water protectors who experienced state violence on the morning of November 21." It lists the use of tear gas, concussion grenades, and water cannon in below freezing temperatures as reasons for the demonstration.

Protesters held a prayer and dance ceremony at Columbus Circle that lasted for about 40 minutes, after which an American flag was set alight.

Activist Mike Bento of NYC Shut It Down explained the protesters’ reasons for burning the flag just prior, saying, “in the spirit of saying ‘f**k Thanksgiving,’ we would like to acknowledge the history that has brought us here. We know that the United States is a nation of lynchers and thieves who stole African people and stole indigenous land. So we do not celebrate genocide, which is what Thanksgiving represents for oppressed people. It should come as no surprise that the federal government gave $3 million dollars in military aid to North Dakota. Some of that aid went to a concussion grenade that has blown off our comrades’ arm … We must break this allegiance to the settler-colonial state … we do this act as a symbol of breaking that allegiance.”

Protesters then marched to Times Square but stopped at the Time Warner building on the way. Activist Peter Soeller told RT that the move was done “to protest CNN and other mainstream media doing hit pieces against Sophia and other water protectors as well.”

A spokesperson for the Morton County Sheriff’s Department denied that security had used concussion grenades, saying, “It wasn’t from our law enforcement, because we didn’t deploy anything that should have caused that type of damage to her arm.”

“There was a large police presence, McCarthy was out, Lombardo was out,” Soeller told RT, referring to NYPD Captain Andrew Lombardo, formerly an Operational Director at the US prison camps Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib who now leads the NYPD’s counter-protest unit Strategic Response Group (SRG).

“This is what we’re talking about when we talk about militarized police,” Soeller said.

Protesters marched up to the famous red stairs at Times Square and occupied them for a brief period of time, an achievement according to Peoples’ Monday activists who say that the NYPD’s SRG usually blocks it off.

The demonstration culminated at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan by the ice-skating rink. One person was arrested in the protest for “criminal mischief,” attorney M.J. Williams told RT.

Christian Valencia, an activist and friend of Wilansky who helped organize the demonstration and set up the highly successful GoFundMe for Wilansky spoke with RT, saying, “she’s a very good friend of mine. I met her during Abolition Square. I know that she was involved with the movement against the Spectra AIM Pipeline in New York.”

“We organized the protest to get the story out about what’s happened to her,” Valencia told RT. “You don’t usually hear about police throwing a grenade at a protester, especially someone who was in a support role. She was getting water for people and she went to go check on someone who was possibly stuck in a vehicle who was injured. She was struck by 17 rubber bullets and it took the grenade to bring her down.”

More than 300 people were injured that night, including a tribal elder who suffered a heart attack, a 13-year-old girl who was reportedly hit in the face with a rubber bullet, and a man who suffered internal bleeding according to the Standing Rock Medic and Healer’s Council.

“This is an escalation. The other thing is that a concussion grenade doesn’t have any use outside, it’s to use inside. It creates a big bang and makes your ears ring. To use it outside, you’re intentionally trying to kill somebody. To me it’s attempted murder. It shows the direction we are headed down,” Valencia said.

Valencia continued, “Her dad said that she doesn’t want this to be about her. She doesn’t want to become a martyr or a hero, she wants this to be a part of the larger issue. He said that Sophia said she wants this to be seen as what we’re doing to our country, what we’re doing to the indigenous people and what we’re doing to the environment. Sophia wants this to be used to help the people at Standing Rock.”

by Alexander Rubinstein