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A Missing Piece of the Full Picture of Police Brutality in America

Missing overwhelmingly from the conversation surrounding race and how it impacts police brutality against citizens are Native Americans While making up less than 1% of the population, they constitute victims in 2% of police killings, indicating a disproportionate effect on this community. For every 1 million Native American citizens annually, 2.9 are killed as results of “legal interventions” that take place. Between 2015-2016, while police brutality rates against other racial and ethnic groups either remained steady or slightly declined (while still being astronomically high), police brutality rates against Native Americans doubled in rate. The victims are overwhelmingly young men. There is also evidence of a disproportionate presence in other areas of the criminal justice system, such as in correctional facilities. Native American men are locked up at 4x the rate that white men are. However, this data may be limited as there are multiple problems with collecting data on Native Americans, specifically related to racial and ethnic identification. The CDC has stated that the rate of Native Americans who die as a result of police brutality may be undercounted as many Native Americans are not properly identified racially on their death certificates, leading to being counted in another racial group and contributing to an underestimate of the true extent of police brutality against Native Americans. There have been multiple attempts at independent database collections to try to identify the extent of the problem, but they are also thought to be underestimated due to data inaccessibility and lack of media coverage. Another problem with estimating the extent of the problem is tribal policing: tribal policing has been implemented for some areas; however, state and local law enforcement still have the authority to respond to criminal calls. Jurisdiction authority is also confusing, leading to the improper official investigating or moving forward with an interaction. This can lead to issues with official paperwork.

There are a few ideas regarding why the Native American population is being disproportionately impacted by the American criminal justice system. At the forefront of these ideas are racial stereotypes that depict Native Americans as aggressive violent drunks that can’t control themselves. This racial stereotype hypothesis is supported as behavioral issues and substance use are factors that contribute to many arrests in this community. While these are not actual prevalent issues in the Native American community when compared to other racial/ethnic groups, they are viewed as such by law enforcement. There have been multiple cases where a Native American citizen has been killed as a result of inebriation and a subsequent perception by others of “being out of control.” For example, a man who was a passenger in a drunk driving incident ran away from the vehicle and the officers and was ultimately shot and killed when arrested. Being drunk has been enough of a justification to kill Native Americans. Another issue that is discussed when concerning high rates of victimization by the police concerns mental health. Mental health services are generally inaccessible to Native Americans for a multitude of reasons, leading to a higher rate of untreated and undiagnosed mental illness in the community. This statistic and again, subsequent perceptions of all Native Americans as being "cary, out of control, and mentally troubled people, have fueled justifications for becoming violent during police interventions. Rather than provide social services to help close the accessibility gap, midwest communities (primarily) rely on police presence and violent tactics.

To help bring awareness to this issue, there have been attempts to make movements similar in momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement, such as with Native Lives Matter. It is noted that there has not been as much success with NLM as there has been with other social movements due to the small number of Native Americans in America in general, but the Native American community has included themselves in the BLM or other equality movement as well, due to the prevalence of law enforcement and criminal justice issues in many communities. There is a unified goal of working towards awareness of law enforcement brutality in all minority racial/ethnic communities. There also needs to be steps made towards collecting more inclusive data on the community, so the full scope of the problem can be examined.

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