In a startling new development, researchers at the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice have determined that Native Americans are killed in police shootings more than any other group.
Mike Males, senior researcher for the nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the United States’ reliance on incarceration, reviewed data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from medical examiners between 2009 and 2011. After studying data from 47 states, it was determined that, per capita, Native Americans were more likely to be killed by police than any other minority group, including African Americans.
Natives in the 20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 age groups were three of the five groups most likely killed by police. Males’ analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 also showed Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.
Compiling such numbers is difficult. Under federal guidelines, law enforcement agencies are supposed to report officer-involved shootings since the mid-90s. However, the reporting is voluntary and out of over 18,000 agencies nationwide, only 3 percent have actually done so. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is in the process of creating a new system that tracks any incident where an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray or fists and feet. However, the system is not expected to be online until sometime in 2017.
In response, an organization called Native Lives Matter was formed two years ago. Inspired by Black Lives Matter, one of the founders, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota attorney and Democratic candidate for Congress from North Dakota, says they’re trying to bring attention to the deaths and the larger social and economic oppression of Native Americans. But he says the name isn’t owned by just one person or cause, and the name has been used for environmental, social, and other causes.
“We don’t own it; everyone has a right to it.”
Native American activists not only point to the numbers as proof of discrimination by law enforcement, but the lack of coverage of those shootings by the media. Claremont Graduate University researchers Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel, and Lily Rowen went through news articles published between May 1, 2014, and October 31, 2015, in the top ten best-selling U.S. newspapers.
Of those articles, only two shootings were covered out of a total of 29 police incidents involving Indians. Advocates for Native Americans also charge the media does not cover deaths of Native Americans while in police custody. Referred to as “death by legal intervention” by the CDC to describe deaths at the hands of police, the category includes those that occur in custody prior to sentencing.
Males, who compiled the numbers for the study, holds the departments accountable for those deaths.
“When people are in custody, law enforcement has control of them and a responsibility for their welfare.”
Former Puyallup tribal chairwoman Ramona Bennett is hopeful for change, even though her grandmother, Jennie Bennett, was killed years ago and the crime covered up.
“But I’m still out for justice for Jennie … a girl who has been dead for 104 years.”