In 8th Circuit Court of Appeals In Support of Water Protector, Jessica Reznicek
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 12, 2021
#FreeJessica: National Lawyers Guild and Water Protector Legal Collective Submit Amicus Brief In 8th Circuit Court of Appeals In Support of Water Protector, Jessica Reznicek
The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) have filed an amicus brief urging the Eighth Circuit Court to vacate the sentence against Water Protector Jessica Reznicek in United States v. Reznicek.
In June of 2021, Reznicek was sentenced to 8 years (96 months) in federal prison after pleading guilty to acts of property damage she caused the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The federal judge applied a “terrorism” sentencing enhancement that increased Reznicek’s prison time several times over.
Despite the fact that DAPL is now operating illegally and evidence of statements by Reznicek that her actions were exclusively aimed at stopping DAPL, federal judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger sentenced Reznicek applying a terrorism sentencing enhancement because she believed Reznicek’s conduct targeted “not only the flow of oil, but the government’s continued responses” as well.
The same week Reznicek reported to prison, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change released their Climate Report signaling “Code Red” for Humanity. Indigenous communities, Water Protectors, and climate activists have continued to oppose DAPL for its pollution and disruption of Indigenous communities and lands, and for climate change acceleration. In the few years DAPL has been in operation, over 10 spills have been reported.
Sentencing Reznicek under a federal terrorism enhancement for acts of civil disobedience targeting private property, sets an alarming and dangerous precedent for climate justice movements and endangers Indigenous and front-line defenders most impacted by worsening climate conditions.
“What Jessica’s case highlights is the power of corporations and the cult of private property we have in the United States that permeates all levels of our society. We already have to contend with the power of corporations (“legal persons under the law”) to lobby, to pay for private security forces that intimidate and brutalize frontline human rights defenders, and use of their endless resources in judicial attacks in the form of SLAPP suits,” said Natali Segovia, Legal Director of the Water Protector Legal Collective and one of the authors of the amicus brief. “Now we must also deal with the power of ‘corporate victims’ to request millions in restitution and extended sentences for acts of civil disobedience—which they term ‘eco-terrorist’—that were avowedly nonviolent and resulted only in property damage of an illegal pipeline that has already leaked and will inevitably do so again. ‘Who will drink the water?’ is not a rhetorical question.”
The brief provides an overview of the historical rise of the industry-coined phrase ‘eco-terrorism’ and contextualizes Reznicek’s actions, including the exhaustion of all legal remedies to halt the DAPL, government inaction to curb climate change and climate scientists’ arguments in favor of mass popular action. Given the very real material threats of climate change, the brief states that Reznicek’s conduct was out of necessity and in response to the environmental terror created by corporations.
The NLG and WPLC urge the court to seriously consider the lasting impacts of this domestic terrorist sentencing precedent on political protest. Branding Water Protectors, Land Defenders, and other environmental activists as “eco-terrorists” results in a “Green Scare” that has led to legal and legislative repercussions for climate justice defenders.
Especially for communities disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, the ability to call for substantial measures to slow or halt climate change are literally a matter of life or death.
From Leoyla Cowboy, Water Protector and WPLC Program Director’s perspective, “Jess put her life on the line because she wanted to protect the water and how much she cares for the Earth. We shouldn’t be asked to decide between seeing our children grow up and stopping harmful oil pipelines.”
Reznicek’s friends and comrades insist on one thing: “she is not a terrorist.”
We stand in solidarity with Jessica Reznicek and all Water Protectors demanding an end to irreversible climate damage.
Counsel for amici are Andrew B. Reid (NLG) and Natali Segovia (WPLC).
Learn more on how you can support on Jessica’s website.
Hear from Jessica in her interview on We Are Iowa Local 5 News.
National Lawyers Guild
Director of Communications, Charlie Blodnieks
Water Protector Legal Collective
Communications Coordinator, Nizhoni Begay