Protester Could Lose Her Arm After Being Injured In N.D. Pipeline Protests Questions are being raised about police tactics dealing with crowds after a woman was severely injured while protesting the pipeline project in North Dakota.
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Protester Could Lose Her Arm After Being Injured In N.D. Pipeline Protests

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Protester Could Lose Her Arm After Being Injured In N.D. Pipeline Protests

Protester Could Lose Her Arm After Being Injured In N.D. Pipeline Protests

Protester Could Lose Her Arm After Being Injured In N.D. Pipeline Protests

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/503108890/503108891" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Questions are being raised about police tactics dealing with crowds after a woman was severely injured while protesting the pipeline project in North Dakota.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A woman in North Dakota may lose her arm. She was injured after she joined hundreds of people protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Her injury is the most serious to date among protesters fighting the 1,200-mile oil project. We have a report this morning from Amy Sisk of the public media project Inside Energy.

AMY SISK, BYLINE: Sophia Wilansky spent three weeks camped in North Dakota opposing construction of the pipeline. But after a confrontation between protesters and police earlier this week, the 21-year-old is now in a Minneapolis hospital.

(SOUNBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WAYNE WILANSKY: The doctor just said she may need as many as 20 surgeries over very many months to have any hope of saving her arm and her hand.

SISK: That's her father, Wayne Wilansky, speaking outside Hennepin County Medical Center yesterday to Minnesota Public Radio and other reporters. She was hurt early Monday morning during an overnight clash between 400 protesters and police on a highway bridge that authorities had closed, blocking access to the pipeline construction site. Since the bridge closure, there have been more and more of these so-called direct actions at the bridge and at the state capitol in Bismarck.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Water is life.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Chanting) You can't drink oil.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Keep it in the soil.

SISK: All await a decision from the federal government about whether to grant the final permit needed for the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River in North Dakota. Sunday night, as protesters took to the bridge, police deployed tear gas and sponge bullets. They also sprayed water on demonstrators while the temperature was below freezing, sparking concerns about hypothermia. Protest leaders report numerous injuries requiring hospitalization. Linda Black Elk is a medic at the protesters' camp.

LINDA BLACK ELK: It seems like, with every action, with every conflict that takes place, they escalate their violent tactics by using some new type of weaponry.

SISK: Both sides agree that the overnight protest got tense, but that's where any agreement ends. Rob Keller with the Morton County Sheriff's Department says protesters refused to obey police orders, and some pelted officers with rocks. He defends police crowd-control methods.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROB KELLER: Had they not been utilized, that line would have probably been overrun, and we'd have a worse situation than we have now.

SISK: Reports circulating on social media allege that Sophia Wilansky was hit by a concussion grenade thrown by police. Here's her father.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILANSKY: This is not Afghanistan. It's not Iraq. We don't throw grenades at people.

SISK: But police deny using any such weapon. Again, Rob Keller.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KELLER: None of our equipment would cause an injury like that.

SISK: Police say an explosion did occur the night Sophia Wilonsky was injured. They recovered propane canisters they say protesters rolled to the site where the blast took place. But police cannot confirm that Wilansky was involved. This wasn't Wilansky's first protest.

She was arrested this past summer protesting a pipeline in Massachusetts and has been active in other anti-pipeline protests in New York. The demonstrations are likely to continue. Protesters here vowed to stay until they stop this final leg of pipeline construction. For NPR News, I'm Amy Sisk in Bismarck.

INSKEEP: Amy's with Inside Energy, a public media collaboration that's focused on America's energy issues.

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