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Police Shootings in Indian Country: Justice or Else!

On July 12th, 2015, Paul Castaway, a Lakota Sioux Native man, was shot four times by Denver police in front of 18 neighborhood children. As Paul bled out onto the pavement, officers rolled him over and handcuffed him. His final words were directed toward his killers: “What’s wrong with you guys?”

Police justification for the use of deadly force against Castaway was that he threatened them with a knife. This statement was contradicted by video evidence as well as the testimony of several eye witnesses who said Paul held the knife to his own throat. You see, he was schizophrenic and battled addiction.

Paul Castaway’s murder is eerily similar to the slaying of Allen Locke, also Lakota, by Rapid City, South Dakota police in December 2014. In that case, the officer also claimed he was threatened with a knife. Rather than deploying non-lethal means, Allen was shot and killed- one day after attending a local rally meant to bring attention to police violence against Native Americans.

The brutal killings of Natives Paul Castaway and Allen Locke at the hands of law enforcement are hardly isolated cases. In fact, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and data gleaned from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, Native Americans are more likely than other racial groups to be killed by police.

Yet we are not alone in this fight.

 

Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a young, pregnant Native woman, and Sandra Bland, a young black woman, both died mysteriously while in police custody within a week of each other. Their tragic deaths, posted simultaneously all over social media last month, served as a tragic reminder that Blacks and Natives are being killed by police at an alarming rate and virtually nothing is being done about it.

Blacks and Natives face many of the same problems, all stemming from a system of imposed poverty and racism that exploits and dehumanizes us both.

We struggle with overt and covert discrimination, high unemployment, substandard housing, inadequate health care, drug abuse, an educational system that fails our children, and a prison industrial complex that profits from the incarceration of our young men.

We’ve been waging war against oppression separately, but now The Honorable Minister Louis Farrahkan is inviting Natives to stand with him to call for Justice Or Else at the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington DC on October 10th, 2015.

Others have tried to unite us. After the establishment of the American Indian Movement in 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reached out to AIM during the planning stages of his Poverty Campaign, just a few weeks before he was assassinated. Malcolm X had also planned to introduce a motion condemning the United States mistreatment of its Indigenous peoples before the United Nations right before he was killed.

It seems as though the corrupt, oppressive power structure of this country, couched in imperialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy and founded by and through Indigenous genocide on stolen land and built on the backs of African slaves, has a vested interest in keeping us divided.

They are right to fear unity among those who’ve been subjected to this oppressive regime since its inception. We aim to change things.

We’re tired of the lynchings and seeing men who hide behind badges get away with the murder. Open your eyes. The genocide our ancestors survived hasn’t stopped. The Indian Wars never ended. We’re still looking down the barrel of a gun and fighting for our lives. Ask any Native person- fear of law enforcement is instilled in us from birth. We’ve seen what happens when cops are called.

We deserve to live in peace, and not be subjected to a police state that convicts us before we’re even arrested. They treat us as though we are all prisoners already, instead of citizens they’ve sworn an oath to protect and serve.

Who will speak for Sarah Lee Circle Bear and her unborn child? Paul Castaway? Allen Locke? Christina Tahhahwah? Or Jon Red Hawk, Joy Ann Sherman, Mahhivist Goodblanket, John Williams, Myles Rough Surface, Corey Kanosh, and the legion of other Natives who’ve been slaughtered by police? Say their names. Don’t let them be forgotten.

We voiced our collective outrage on social media and in the streets. We cannot go on like this. As Natives we are taught to keep the next seven generations in mind. Liberation is the goal. This broken colonial system that only benefits the privileged and keeps our communities weighed down with crushing poverty while encouraging police brutality, must end. Revolution is coming.

It’s time that America is forced to live up to its promises; not only by honoring its treaties with sovereign Native nations, but by providing equal rights to all.

It is no longer enough for us to say, “STOP MURDERING US.”

Join us as we demand Justice for Black and Red.

Let’s march on Washington together.

More articles by:

Ruth Hopkins (Sisseton-Wahpeton and Mdewakanton Dakota, Hunkpapa Lakota) is an author, blogger, biologist, activist, judge, columnist for Indian Country Today Media Network, and founding writer with Lastrealindians.com.

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