For the first time since Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, dogs attacked peaceful protesters in America. Private security guards sicced their dogs on the Natives protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota on September 3rd, and most of our presidential candidates have yet to say a word about it. The dogs bit at least six people and the security guards pepper sprayed dozens, but the protesters drove the security guards and their dogs away. Now that the dust has cleared, they have yet to see support from our leading candidates.
Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Gary Johnson have said nothing about this development all week, and their silence is troubling. Clinton spoke about human rights, but ignored the human rights of the natives fighting off attack dogs. Trump tried(again) to appeal to African-Americans, which is curious considering how any black person in America might feel about watching dogs attacking protesters. Perhaps if he wants to reach black voters, he should address that. Johnson was more concerned with promoting himself so he can get on the debate stage. Based on his silence, this protest may not be a subject he wants to discuss.
One must wonder how a presidential candidate expects to win an election and have a successful administration while ignoring a demographic that suffers physical attack when exercising their right to protest. That might be acceptable during the 1960s, but in 2016 people are still protesting social issues right and left years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Protecting First Amendment Rights should be a crucial part of any politician’s campaign. Yet the three candidates with the most votes are silent. Jill Stein, the least likely candidate to win, was the first to speak on this issue and arrive at the scene. She will face vandalism or trespassing charges for spray painting construction equipment in protest against the pipeline.
Moments like this highlight a flaw in the argument that a vote for Stein is a vote for Trump. Stein isn’t stealing any votes from Clinton. Clinton is giving them away by playing right into Trump’s argument about the Democrats that they care about votes from people of color, particularly black people, but not the voters themselves. However, Trump, who has shown tangential interest in the black community until recently, did not invent this argument. Black voters have felt this way about the Democratic Party for quite some time. Gary Frazier, 40, from Camden, New Jersey, expressed his disdain for the Democrats and support for the Green Party at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
Clinton’s silence(along with President Obama’s) on this incident is inexcusable. She doesn’t have to show up there, but it would make a great statement if she did. She doesn’t have to spray paint(and shouldn’t), but she should show her support, especially when people are calling her out on previous statements about “standing for Tribal sovereignty.” She doesn’t need to adopt Stein’s stances on everything, but she should adopt the ideas that make sense no matter what party you represent. Decrying the use of attack dogs on protesters should get an immediate response on Twitter at least. If we criticize Trump’s double talk with the Ku Klux Klan, then we should criticize Clinton’s hesitance to speak out on conduct a white supremacist would support(see: Eugene “Bull” Connor). Stein is unlikely to win, but she’ll still grab votes, especially from the people she shows up for when Clinton doesn’t, and Clinton will only have herself to blame.
Clinton isn’t stupid. She has to know her silence will cost her some votes, so why hasn’t she spoken up? Perhaps it’s for the same reason Trump hasn’t. She may very well believe that this demographic is not worth her time and energy. It wouldn’t be the first time Native Tribes have gone ignored during presidential elections, but the Democratic Party has reached out to them more than Republicans. Still, considering Native Tribes make up 1.7 percent of the population, Clinton may have decided to focus on the demographics that have a greater chance of helping her win as we get closer to November. That would make her silence a strategy based on numbers, but that leaves us with one question.
Who wants to vote for candidates who treat people like mere statistics? Perhaps moments like this are the reason Clinton and Trump have been labelled two of the most disliked presidential candidates in this election, both of whom have people wondering if they’re sociopaths. Now people have yet another reason to lose faith in our two-party system. When the only presidential candidate who shows up and criticizes the use of attack dogs on nonviolent protesters is the one who has little chance to win, that speaks volumes about what it takes to become president of the United States. Caring about our Native Tribes when they suffer abuse must be optional when you can win without them.
We need to do better, my friends.
Update: President Obama spoke on Dakota Access Pipeline protests in Laos. See here.
Update(9/9/16): The Justice Department and Department of the Army issued a statement on the pipeline. See here.