Bond Was Set Extra High for Keystone Pipeline Protesters, to Send Those Hippies a Message

Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a recently maced protester to the paddy wagon in November.
Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies drag a recently maced protester to the paddy wagon in November.
Photo by Brandon Thibodeaux

For more than two weeks, three young people arrested on misdemeanor charges have remained in a Smith County jail, unable to bond about because a judge set bail at $65,000. They stand accused of misdemeanor criminal trespassing, resisting arrest and illegal dumping.

But the unusually high bond amounts are entirely artifacts of who they are and what they represent, not the misdemeanor crimes committed. They remain in jail because they trespassed on the right-of-way belonging to TransCanada, the company that will construct the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline.

Were they not pipeline protesters, these young people would almost certainly bond out for amounts in the four digits, not five. Last month, I attended a protest in Cherokee County, some three hours east of Dallas. Young men and women fastened themselves to heavy equipment used to clear the pipeline's right of way through the pine woods, and mounted platforms in the trees, anchored to machinery on the ground. All the while, Cherokee County Sheriff's deputies and Alto and Rusk police worked to extricate them and to keep protesters at bay, often through the indiscriminate use of pepper spray.

I suspect such manpower does not come cheap for rural counties and municipalities. I suspect the law enforcement officers would rather not tramp through the woods, clutching zipcuffs. And perhaps that is the message these extraordinarily high bail amounts intend to telegraph: That your ends do not comport with ours. That your means -- non-violent though they may be -- are a costly nuisance. That there are plenty of East Texas landowners who welcome a TransCanada check in return for an easement. Perhaps most of all, it is intended to remind them that they do not belong here.

The bail's incongruity sends another message, too: That the protesters are a unique class of defendant, separate and distinct from the other misdemeanor defendants who appear in Smith County court. There is a constitutional prohibition to making such distinctions, when the bond and the alleged crime are not in proportion to one another.

If Smith County aims to hold these young people to account for breaking the law, and if justice is its goal, it can start by setting a just bond.

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