This past weekend, activists from across Appalachia shut down the largest operating mountaintop removal mine in America. Such a historic act has caught media attention in connection with other climate activism, known together as the Summer of Solidarity. But such strong demands for climate justice have not gone without push-back.
The 20 arrestees who partook in the mountaintop action have had their bail set at $25,000 each -- or half a million dollars in total. This bail has since been lowered, but the initial price is still unconstitutional.
What's worse is West Virginia native and mountaintop removal activist Dustin Steele, the only native to be arrested in the action, was brutalized after arrest. Reports are coming out now that the abuse was more widespread than just toward Dustin.
Appalachian communities have fought oppression for over a hundred years, and Dustin Steele along with dozens of other activists are just the most recent wave of allies to stand up to Big Coal.
Dustin and company's maltreatment is the latest and most shameful instance of injustice within the West Virginian criminal justice system.
Police brutality cannot be accepted as a response to nonviolent protests, and it is time for West Virginian politicians to take responsibility and clean house in their executive branches.
Sign below to show your support for Dustin and other defenders of Appalachia, and demand that Senators Manchin and Rockefeller take a look into their offices and fix things up back home.
This nonviolent action was the culmination of a weeklong training process and consisted of a series of blockades and "lock-downs" of activists to earth-moving equipment.. No one on the site was armed, and there was no intent to harm anyone.
Dustin Steele, one of the activists who engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, is a native of Matewan, West Virginia, and has been an outspoken critic of the dominance by the coal industry of West Virginia in particular and the Appalachian region in general. His grandfather was a coal miner, so he had a rich understanding of the vibrant history of resisting King Coal in West Virginia. Last year, he participated in the "March on Blair Mountain," in which activists marched the route walked in 1921 by coal miners fighting to unionize.
Dustin was arrested by State Police with 19 other peaceful protesters and was taken to Western Regional Jail near Barboursville, West Virginia. There, he was taken to a separate room once he was processed and beaten by several police officers. In the limited communication RAMPS has received from him, Dustin has said that he has severe back pain and is having trouble walking. Dustin is being held on a $25,000 bail for charges of trespassing and obstructing an office.
We, the friends of Steele, are very distressed by this turn of events, not only because of the injuries our brother is suffering from, but also because of the impunity with which West Virginia law enforcement officials are able to brutalize nonviolent demonstrators. With these outrageous grievances in mind, we demand the following:
1) That Dustin Steele be released immediately from state custody or else be transferred to a hospital where he can receive the medical attention he needs;
2) A thorough investigation, commencing immediately and not concluding until the facts of Dustin's case are firmly established, into police violence against those who resist the coal industry in Appalachia.
Not only Dustin, but several other activists reported injurious treatment by the police officers who detained and processed them. We fear that this is not an isolated incident, but a systemic pattern in the justice system of West Virginia, which seems to throw the book at nonviolent demonstrators against the coal industry but turn a blind eye to those who brutalize and terrorize these brave and noble people.