Police confront protesters with a rubber bullet gun near Cannon Ball, N.D., on Sunday, during a protest against plans to pass the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)
A woman protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline who was wounded earlier this week might lose her arm as a result of the injury, her family says. Sophia Wilansky’s injury is the most gruesome to date of the months-long standoff at Standing Rock, N.D.
“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,” Wilansky’s father, Wayne Wilansky, told a group of reporters outside a Minneapolis hospital.
Police and protesters — who call themselves “water protectors” — have very different explanations for how Sophia Wilansky was injured early Monday morning. Protesters say she was struck by a police weapon; police suggest she might have been involved in an explosion caused by protesters.
“Both sides agree that the overnight protest got tense, but that’s where any agreement ends,” reports Amy Sisk, a journalist with the public media collaboration Inside Energy.
Sisk, who has been reporting on the protest for NPR for months, says the clash on Sunday night saw 400 protesters and police facing off over a bridge that had been closed by authorities, blocking access to the pipeline construction site:
“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. ‘It seems like with every action with every conflict that takes place they escalate their violent tactics by using some new type of weaponry,’ [she says].”
“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:
” ‘Had they not been utilized, that line would probably have been overrun and we’d have a worse situation than we have now.’ “
Protesters say police threw a concussion grenade that hit 21-year-old Wilansky and caused her injury. Wilansky’s father told The Associated Press that there were multiple witnesses — “and my daughter, who was completely conscious, said they threw a grenade right at her.”