|Written by Jon Lurie,
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“Black Lives Matter!” The chant
has echoed through America’s streets since Aug. 9, the day unarmed
teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer
in Ferguson, Mo. The Brown case focused attention on longstanding
problems in black communities: racial profiling and police violence
against young black men.
The perceived lack of justice in these
and many other cases sparked major demonstrations, including a Dec.
20 rally at the Mall of America that drew more than 3,000 protesters.
But as millions rallied around the
cause of human rights for African-Americans, many Indigenous people
wonder if America thinks their lives matter. For every Michael Brown,
for every Eric Garner, they say, there is a victim of police violence
in Indian Country whose name you probably don’t know.
imperative to understand that this issue is not just about black
people and white people. Despite the available statistical evidence,
most people don't know that Native Americans are most likely to be
killed by police, compared with other racial groups. Native Americans
make up about 0.8% of the population, yet account for 1.9% of police
killings,” Simon Moya-Smith, an Oglala Lakota journalist, wrote in
a CNN editorial last month.
“There is no outcry against what’s
happening in Native American communities,” Lemoine LaPointe, a
Lakota educator and community organizer from Rosebud, S.D. who lives
in the Twin Cities said. “These very same atrocities that have been
happening in the Black community have been happening to Native
American people and without protest. It has to stop.”
While police and military violence
against Native American people has been occurring for hundreds of
years, LaPointe said a recent rash of incidents could have been
avoided if police officers had been trained to use violence as a last
resort. He refers to the following as cases where lives might have
been saved had responding officers deployed nonlethal tactics.
Lakota Man killed by Rapid City,
S.D. Police after attending #NativeLivesMatter Rally
Dec. 19, 2014: Shouts of "Native
lives matter" and "Hands up don't shoot" echoed along
two of Rapid City's busiest streets as nearly 100 men, women and
children gathered to call attention to police brutality and the loss
of Native American lives in South Dakota’s second-largest city.
Among the marchers chanting and
praying for the Rapid Creek victims was Allen Locke, a 30 year-old
Lakota man, a sun dancer, and a resident of Rapid City who was about
to become the latest Native person killed by Rapid City Police.
"Discrimination is alive here,"
American Indian Movement leader Bill Means told the crowd before they
set out for a walk down Fifth Street and along Omaha Street. As
participants marched, the names of 25 individuals who have been
killed along Rapid Creek over the past two decades were read.
At the Sixth Street Bridge spanning
Rapid Creek the walkers paused to once again listen to the names of
those who died along the banks below. Many of the deaths that
occurred near Rapid Creek remain unsolved crimes, with cause of death
listed as blunt force trauma or suicide.
"It's a human rights crisis that
we're dying at those rates," said Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota
attorney and activist. "We've got problems, my relatives, but
we're the only ones that can fix them. Only we can save us."
Royce Yellow Hawk of Rosebud, S.D.
sang a memorial song for those who died along the creek. His older
brother, Royal Yellow Hawk, was only 26 when his body was found near
the creek in 2001.
The Rapid Creek victims were
casualties of an "undeclared race war here in South Dakota,"
Iron Eyes said.
The day following the Rapid City
protest, police bullets took the life of Allen Locke. Locke was
killed by a white officer responding to a call of an “unwanted
subject” at 541 Paha Sapa Road. Just after 6 p.m. on Dec. 20,
Officer Anthony Meirose arrived on scene at the Lakota Homes housing
Capt. Dan Rud, a spokesman for the
Rapid City Police Department told reporters, “Officer Meirose
approached the house. While standing in the doorway, he was attacked
by a male subject with a knife. The officer drew his weapon and shot
the subject multiple times."
Emergency Medical Services were
immediately called to the scene but it was too late. Locke was
pronounced dead at Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Rud said Locke was shot up to five
times by Meirose, who was placed on paid administrative leave while
the killing is investigated.
The fatal shooting, coming just one
day after a non-violent protest against police brutality, ignited
suspicions of a racial motive. Rud sought to lay those suspicions to
rest. "This officer is white, the suspect is Native American,”
he said, “but it's not a race deal. This is based on criminal
behavior and it had nothing to do with race. Had the race of the
Police Officer be Native American and the suspect white the results
would have been the same."
Locke’s family has not yet offered
its account of what occurred. His siblings, Christie and Darrell
Locke, released a statement asking for calm and patience as they said
“In light of the recent tragic
events that have transpired at Lakota Homes and that have claimed the
life of our son, brother, father, partner, grandson, uncle and loved
one, we feel it imperative to issue a public statement asking the
Rapid City and Native community at-large to bear with us as we grieve
our loss and make arrangements for Allen.
“We genuinely appreciate the prayer
vigils and ceremony circles that are being organized in Allen’s
memory; this is a crucial time for our family as Allen is making his
“We feel the community’s hurt; we
know you are angry, we know you are sad and we know everyone is on
edge as a result of Allen’s violent death coming off the heels of
his participation in the Anti-Police Brutality Rally and March a day
before this horrific incident. There are many details that we will
share in time but we are trying very hard to hold it together and to
be strong and peaceful in order to send our loved one off.”
Mah-hi-vist “Red Bird”
Goodblanket Killed by Custer County Deputies
Eighteen year-old Mah-hi-vist
Goodblanket, Cheyenne-Arapaho from Custer County, Okla., was
diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder in 2009. On Dec. 13,
2013, according to reports published in The Oklahoman newspaper,
Mah-hi-vist was experiencing an episode associated with his medical
condition. His parents, Wilbur and Melissa Goodblanket called police
so that the teen wouldn’t harm himself. Two Custer County sheriff
deputies entered the Goodblanket home and moments later shot the
unarmed teen to death.
Goodblanket's girlfriend, Naomi
Barron, who was present when he was killed, said in a statement that
Goodblanket had no weapons when the two white deputies opened fire.
"He [had] his arms up and his hands were free … he had no
weapons," she said.
The autopsy report
found that Goodblanket was shot seven times and determined the cause
of death to be homicide. According to family, he was a motivated
student who finished high school a year early and attended Haskell
Indian Nations University. The Goodblanket family awaits word on
whether or not the deputies will be charged.
Goodblanket's mother told CNN she
can't comprehend why mainstream media does not report on the killings
of unarmed Native Americans and why the killing of her son has failed
to spark a national response. "Our 18 year-old son was murdered.
This [incident] in itself should initiate an outrage among those who
The two white deputies involved in the
shooting both received the Medal of Honor and one received the Purple
Heart by his department after Goodblanket's death. On the Custer
County Sheriff's Facebook page, a post said the awards were in
"recognition of their performance above and beyond the call of
duty while disregarding their own personal safety and exhibiting
exceptional courage in a life threatening situation, stemming from a
domestic call they responded to in December of 2013 … "
John T. Williams Shot to Death by
Williams, a 50-year-old traditional
wood carver of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation, was shot four times
by Seattle police officers on Aug. 30, 2010. The Seattle Times
reported that Williams died at the scene, which was capture by a
police dash cam. His only crime appears to have been walking down the
street carrying a small, legal carving knife and a chunk of cedar.
Officer Ian Birk fired his weapon five
times from a distance of 10 feet after giving Williams, who was deaf
in one ear, four seconds to drop the knife. Without explaining their
decision King County prosecutors decided not to charge Officer Birk
with a criminal offense.
Birk resigned after the Firearms
Review Board found that, among other problems, Birk didn’t identify
himself as a police officer as he approached Williams from behind.
The knife that Birk claimed was a threat was folded shut when found
by responding officers.
Eight Year-Old Lakota Girl Tased by
Police in Pierre, S.D.
On Oct. 4, 2013, the babysitter of an
8 year-old Lakota girl called police because the child had a knife in
her hand and was threatening to hurt herself. The police entered the
home and seconds later they Tased her from about five feet away. The
girl’s mother, Dawn Stenstrom, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe,
said the police used “excessive force” when they used a Taser on
A lawsuit filed against the City of
Pierre says, “The force of the electricity shot through her body,
lifted her, and threw her against the wall.”
Stenstrom’s attorney Dana Hanna told
the Rapid City Journal that the girl suffered physical,
psychological and emotional injuries. An investigation by the South
Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation ruled that the officers had
acted appropriately. Since the incident, Stenstrom and her daughter
have moved from Pierre back to the Rosebud Reservation.
Benjamin Whiteshield Shot in
Clinton, Okla. Police as Family Sought Care
On June 28, 2012, police officers in
the city of Clinton, Okla. shot and killed Cheyenne-Arapaho Nation
citizen Benjamin Whiteshield, 34, outside of their police station.
Whiteshield’s family took him to the police station to get him help
during a delusional episode. Whiteshield’s grandmother called
police in advance and reported that Benjamin was holding a wrench and
complaining that he didn’t know where he was. She is reported by
NewsOK as having been assured by officers they would not hurt her
Several police officers met the family
outside the police station where one of them drew his weapon and shot
Whiteshield through the mouth. Family members say the several police
officers present should have been able to peaceably subdue him.
District Attorney Dennis Smith ruled
the shooting of Benjamin Whiteshield was justifiable. "We
believe the officer acted in self-defense," Smith told the
Clinton Daily News. "The officer has been cleared."
Crisis Intervention Team Training: A
Solution for Indian Country
“When you take a look at those
situations it appears like officers were at fault.” LaPointe said.
“But rather than just pointing fingers, what I’d really like to
do is offer a solution.”
That solution, LaPointe said, begins
with every police officer in Indian Country acquiring Crisis
Intervention Team training, a method of defusing interactions between
police and members of the public without the use of force.
“With that young girl that was Tased
in Pierre, for example: What happened to getting down on one knee and
being about the height of that young child and talking as one human
being to another?” LaPointe said. “That’s the best weapon that
police officers can carry is the ability to conduct dialogue with
someone. If we don’t enhance that ability to create rapport and
serve our citizenry then we’re in trouble. And people know it.”
CIT was developed in 1988 by the
University of Memphis in coordination with the Memphis Police
Department and mental health professionals. According to its
published guidelines, CIT provides law enforcement officials training
for assisting those individuals with a mental illness, improves the
safety of patrol officers, consumers, family members and citizens
within the community.
While the CIT protocols, also known as
the “Memphis Model” were designed for dealing with individuals
experiencing mental illness, they can be effective for the peaceful
diffusion of any crisis. LaPointe says there is urgency to act now to
implement CIT in Native communities.
“President Obama is asking for $260
million from congress to address issues of police violence around the
country. Native people have be part of the conversation or once again
we will not be heard,” LaPointe, who is a certified Crisis
Intervention Team (CIT) trainer, said.
“CIT is a movement based on the
notion of partnership between mental health providers, the police
department and community advocacy leaders,” Mark Anderson said. He
is the Executive Director of the Minneapolis-based Barbara Snyder
Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the widespread adoption of the
Memphis Model. “It’s a tough coalition because they don’t
necessarily see eye to eye. Two of the partners are the system and
the third is trying to change the system. The idea is to create a
partnership between these three entities and then work on improving
the response to people in crisis.
“What we’re seeing in some of
these recent police killings is that there’s a big rush on the part
of the police officer to change something, which causes an escalation
of the confrontation and ends badly,” Anderson said. “The
questions CIT asks is what’s the rush? We teach the police to slow
down. Take the time to communicate. Remind them that this is a human
being you’re dealing with.”
LaPointe said he would like to see the
federal government grant the funds for regional conferences where
tribal government officials, BIA and tribal police officers, and
mental health professionals working in Indian communities come
together and “indigenize” CIT for widespread application in
“These situations haven’t been
addressed so the likelihood of them occurring again is certain,”
LaPointe warns. “We can save lives by being proactive.”
Dr. Dan Foster, Deputy
Director and Supervisory Clinical Psychologist Rosebud
(South Dakota) Indian Health Service Hospital and Clinic, said that
the Memphis Model could be particularly useful in Native
American communities. Foster attended a recent CIT training in
Rosebud and was impressed by its potential to save lives.
“It says in the preamble to the U.S.
Constitution that all are created equal. But, of course, we are not
all endowed with the same gifts. We all look a bit different from one
another and we all have different abilities. But what 'All People are
Created Equal' means to me is that the beauty of each person is not
in who they are, but what they do. CIT brings us back to the idea
that each individual person has great worth.”
While he admires the poetic wording of
America’s founding document, Foster indicts the “western system”
as a “system that doesn’t work well for our species.” He calls
homicide and suicide a “byproduct of the western system,” because
it “serves few well and makes the majority unhappy.”
Foster says he
would like to see CIT trainers on the Rosebud Reservation
semi-annually as an antidote to the violence. “This teaches us a
method for producing the very best outcomes for everyone involved,
the police, mental health professionals, and the community.”