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Native Americans: Forgotten in the Narrative of Police Brutality

Minneapolis protest, June 2020. Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr

The United States Government and their policies has a longstanding tradition of taking away the agency of minorities and pitting them against each other. The first groups affected were the Native Americans before the United States was even a country. Throughout the history of the United States, Native Americans have been mistreated and abused through the murder of their people and taking their ancestral home lands. Now in modern times, they are often forgotten and left out of the narrative. One instance where they are left out of the narrative today is the brutality and killings of Native Americans that they experience from police (Hansen, 2017). Statistics also show that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by the police according to statistics from the CDC. From the CDC data they found that Native American “mortality rate is 12% higher than for African Americans and three times the rate of whites” (Hansen, 2017). Yet, their deaths are rarely discussed in the narrative about police brutality/excessive use of force.

Daniel Sheehan the general council for Lakota’s People’s Law Project said “Native American people are basically invisible to most of the people in the country” (Hansen, 2017). This appears to be primarily. It is uncommon to hear public outcry about police excessive use of force that does not include and African American. In fact, I was surprised to discover the level of brutality that has been used against Native Americans by police. For example in 2017, Preston Bill was shot 74 times in a further attempt to flee from the police (Mabie, 2020). In the process of attempting to flee for a second time he reversed into a police car. Even though he was in the wrong… there any action that a civilian takes that would warrant being shot 74 times?

Preston is not the only victim where police officer have used excessive force, but we do not hear about these cases in the news nor do most Americans know that there is an issue with Native Americans and police brutality. As with all police statistics, there is underreporting of the deaths of Native Americans by police. This fact points out the need for police officers being held accountable for their actions and tracking all of their movements and actions while working. Police reform and accountability are required for all people to have better interactions and outcomes when interacting with police.

Native Americans often deal with being forgotten, which begs to question how this affects their self-worth, dignity, and identity? How can a people that has been disenfranchised and forgotten by large stream society deem themselves as being important, especially when people do not care about their deaths and lives? In fact, while researching this topic there are not many sources that discuss Native Americans experience with police brutality. When discussions of African Americans encounters with police occur they always point out how African Americans interactions with police are not proportional to percentage that they represent in the population (Gelb, 2020). Research shows that Native Americans are the most likely racial group to be killed by police proportionally. There have been several initiatives and movements to stem police violence and bring attention to this issue in the Native American community. Hopefully the increased attention on police brutality also helps to shed light on this issue in the Native American community.

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