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400 walk for forgiveness near law enforcement offices, but top officers stay away

MANDAN, N.D.--A few police outside the Morton County Sheriff's Department interacted with people who came in a spirit of forgiveness for incidents related to Dakota Access pipeline actions, but there was no official participation in the Sunday mo...

Cheryl Angel (left) and Lyla June Johnston organized a forgiveness rally Sunday to promote healing from the trauma of the police and anti-Dakota Access pipeline movement clashes of recent weeks. Photo by Lauren Donovan / Bismarck Tribune
Cheryl Angel (left) and Lyla June Johnston organized a forgiveness rally Sunday to promote healing from the trauma of the police and anti-Dakota Access pipeline movement clashes of recent weeks. Photo by Lauren Donovan / Bismarck Tribune

MANDAN, N.D.-A few police outside the Morton County Sheriff's Department interacted with people who came in a spirit of forgiveness for incidents related to Dakota Access pipeline actions, but there was no official participation in the Sunday morning gathering.

About 400 people behind a banner reading "Love Prayer Forgiveness" surrounded the downtown block of the Morton County courthouse and sheriff's department hoping to heal themselves through forgiveness for what they view as excessive police brutality the past two weeks.

"The last thing we feel like doing is forgiving today, but we do it anyway. It is medicine that will heal the world," said event organizer Lyla June Johnston, a Cheyenne River Sioux tribe member. She referred to the Oct. 27 police sweep through a protest camp on the pipeline route in which 141 were arrested and protesters were shot with rubber bullets and bean bags and sprayed with pepper spray. Some protesters threw rocks and wood chunks and later some hurled Molotov cocktails at police.

Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler slightly opened the front door to the sheriff's department to say he had no intentions of coming out to participate in the forgiveness ceremony.

"They've thrown fire bottles at our police; that's why I'm not coming out. This is peaceful, but they have used Molotov cocktails. This is their thing and we won't interrupt. If they would keep it like this, we would have no problem," Ziegler said before closing the door again.

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Highway Patrolman Rob Moyle phoned patrol Lt. Tom Iverson at Johnston's request and relayed the response that no one from the agency would be coming out, either.

For himself, Moyle said, "It got chaotic out there (that day) and I did get hit by a couple of rocks, but in the end we all want peace. Their voices are being heard. I don't feel good about the violence."

As he stood there near the sheriff's building, Jillian Quam, 10, of Mandan, who came with her mom, ran up for a hug. "Everyone needs to be all peaceful," she said.

Around the other side of the block, officers with the State Parole Board and the Bismarck Police Department were walking into the building as the long line of marchers passed on the sidewalk in front of them. The men stood for several moments, sort of caught between their vehicles and the marchers, shaking hands, taking hugs and wishing good morning to people who reached out as they passed by.

The men said they didn't want to be identified by name, because there have been problems for police over the months of the protest, but the Bismarck officer did say of Oct. 27, "It was surreal. I never thought I would see that in North Dakota. Was it painful? Yah, it was," he said.

Isaac Weston, an Oglala Sioux, said watching women being sprayed with pepper spray was particularly painful as the militarized police action on North Dakota Highway 1806 brought armored vehicles and hundreds of armed officers through the encampment. It followed an attempt by authorities to first negotiate a voluntary non-confrontational resolution.

Weston said that afterward, "I felt lost and confused, wondering how human beings could treat another human being that way. I came to spread the love. The hardest thing to do is to forgive."

Johnston said all the police agencies were informed that the forgiveness march would be held and that awareness was more important to her than whether they joined in.

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"It's good enough for me that they know we're here in love," she said.

Related Topics: PIPELINE PROTESTS
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