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A makeshift mug shot of freelance journalist Jenni Monet, who was arrested on Feb. 1. Jail guards wrote the names of those arrested on a sheet of paper and took their pictures with digital camera. The paper in this photo shows the Turtle Mountain Chippewa family name spelling of the name Monette, in which the reporter has roots.(Morton County Sheriff's Office)

Free press?

Journalist facing ‘riot’ and ‘trespassing’ charges for covering Dakota Access Pipeline protests

February 13, 2017

Freelance journalist Jenni Monet has been covering the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and the ongoing protests opposing the $3.8 billion project since September of 2016. Over that time, Monet has witnessed nearly 700 demonstrators, known as “water protectors,” hauled off and arrested by state authorities. On February 1, Monet, who’s been embedded at Standing Rock since December, became one of those arrested — only she wasn’t protesting the construction of the pipeline. She was covering the story.

Monet was restrained with a zip-tie, taken into custody, had a makeshift mug shot taken, and charged with “criminal trespassing” and “engaging in a riot.” Both charges are Class B misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a $500 fine, Monet told Women in the World in an email interview. Monet said she was one of at least eight journalists who have been arrested covering the story.

“I was taking notes and photos on February 1 as pipeline opponents attempted to establish a new camp on historic Treaty territory,” Monet explained, adding, “I complied with police orders when asked to show my media credentials and was leaving the scene,” when she was detained. In a Medium post Monet published about the experience, originally commissioned by Indian Country Today, she said the officer denied that she presented her credentials and arrested her. But Monet had been recording audio of the exchange and the footage, which she posted on YouTube, contradicts the officer’s actions. Listen to the exchange between them in the clip below.

A day later, Monet, 40, was released on bond. Now she’s digging in for her legal battle, an inconvenient distraction from coverage of the story, which continues to take twists and turns. Last week, CNN reported, the U.S. Army issued the final permitted needed for construction on the pipeline to begin. On Monday, a federal judge was hearing arguments from the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes to stop construction on the final stretch of controversial project, according to The Associated Press.

“At a time when my focus should be on the developments of this story, at perhaps one of its most critical hours, I instead am forced to fight my own battle in defending my First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution,” Monet said. Despite the setback, she vowed the arrest wouldn’t deter her from carrying out her duties as a journalist.

“I have maintained, throughout my near six-months-long reporting of this story to cover this story from all sides, and I will continue to nurture my professional relationships at the state and county level to complete my coverage while demanding my charges be dropped,” Monet, who hails from New York City and was involved behind the scenes last year with the Women in the World New York Summit.

She told Women in the World that several of the publications she writes for, including The Center for Investigative Reporting, High Country News and Yes! Magazine, are demanding the dismissal of the charges against her. And the Oneida Nation, which owns Indian Country Today Media Network, is helping with her legal defense. Monet said she’s very grateful for the outpouring of support amid her plight.

Freelance journalist Jenni Monet covering the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Rob Wilson)
Freelance journalist Jenni Monet covering the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. (Rob Wilson)

Monet has strived to cover the story from all angles and has been lauded for her balanced and dispassionate approach to her coverage. She was drawn to it, she said, not only because of personal connections — she’s a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe of New Mexico and has family roots in the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Band of Indians — but because of her belief in the power of journalism for telling an important story.

“For Indigenous People’s, Standing Rock legitimized the struggle that has always been there over the course of the last 500 years of colonization. The fact that the whole world — not just the U.S. — woke up to this reality was something I have never witnessed in my more than a decade of writing exclusively about Indigenous Peoples,” Monet said.

“I think for me personally as an indigenous person and journalist, what this story also represents is an inherent responsibility to tell this story with the kind of nuanced approach that is almost always missed from the journalism community,” Monet said. “I feel a certain mission to tell this story in a way that is perhaps a little less-hyped or romanticized, traits that have been a constant in writing ‘about’ indigenous peoples.”

Looking ahead to her next court date on February 22, Monet said she is calling on Morton County to drop her charges. “It’s wrong and dangerous to charge journalists for a crime when we’re just doing our jobs,” she said. “Journalism is not a crime.”


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