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Indigenous People's Struggles with Police Violence

Police violence and their excessive use of force is rampant in the United States and unfortunately multiple racial groups have suffered tragedies at their hands. One group that is affected by police violence yet rarely get the media coverage they deserve are Indigenous people. Due to a lack of attention their treatment by the police get, we do not have very many statistics on how many Indigenous people are actually affected. However, from the sources that have collected data, they demonstrate that Indigenous people are killed at similar (or in some instances) higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. The Urban Institute finds that apart blatant racism, jurisdictional issues and civility, or lack thereof, among tribal police and state law enforcement are likely to contribute to Indigenous individuals facing a higher risk of fatal encounters with law enforcement. The police’s negligence when dealing with Indigenous individuals has led to unnecessary use of force on their part and Indigenous people are rarely afforded the level of careful de-escalation we see them provide white individuals.


One case of law enforcement’s excessive use of force that unnecessarily cost someone their life is the case of Jason Pero. Jason Pero was a 14 year old Indigenous teenager from Bad River, Wisconsin that was fatally shot to death in 2017. Ashland County Sheriff’s Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich stated that Jason approached him with a large butcher knife and he allegedly refused numerous commands to drop the weapon. Deputy Mrdjenovich stated that Jason lunged at him twice which thus prompted him to fire his service weapon at Jason twice. However, Jason’s family states that these actions described on his part do not sound like him and they fear the Ashland police department is not being truthful about how these events unfolded.


“I know that lunging could also mean taking a step. It’s all on what words they want to include in their report,” Jason’s mom Holly Gauthier said. “It’s almost like they are trying to make my 14-year-old boy look like a man, and he did not. He had a baby face and a boy’s voice.” This demonstrates law enforcement’s tendencies of adultification when it comes to their interactions with and treatment of non-white young children. Specifically, it highlights a double standard in which law enforcement apply the “boys will be boys” trope to young white boys when they get into trouble yet non-white young boys are not afforded that same leisure. Instead, law enforcement often state that non-white young boys “should have known better” and therefore deserve whatever negative consequences they face as a result of their actions. It leads to reckless decision making on law enforcement's behalf and can result in the injury or death of young non-white boys.


Jason’s parents filed a wrongful death claim as they believed the situation with their son could have easily been de-escalated yet instead it ended in Jason’s death. More specifically, they claim that Ashland County Sheriff Michael Brennan and staff failed to properly train or supervise Mrdjenovich and that a lack of training resulted in what they believe was the use of excessive force. However, Ashland County denied Jason’s parents’ claim and ultimately decided not to criminally charge Brock Mrdjenovich. Jason’s family emphasized the fact that Deputy Mrdjenovich had a taser and pepper spray on him. In addition, he could have chosen to call for backup but instead he was quick to pull out his gun and end Jason’s life. Why are law enforcement so trigger-happy during altercations that could end so much more peacefully? Alongside racialized dynamics, it is closely tied to the warrior mindset that refers to the mental tenacity and attitude that officers, like soldiers, are taught to adopt when they are dealing with a life-threatening struggle. They are taught that they live in an extremely hostile world and therefore they view even the most innocent people as their enemy. Current police culture and their trainings are costing people like Jason Pero their life and will most likely continue to do so until there is a change in the institution itself.






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