Suquamish Tribe Descendant Jeanette Riley, a 34-year-old mother of four, lay facedown on a Sandpoint, Idaho street. One minute earlier, three police officers had arrived, summoned by staff at a nearby hospital. Her husband had sought help there because Riley—homeless, pregnant and with a history of mental illness—was threatening suicide. Riley had a knife in her right hand and was sitting in the couple’s parked van.
body armor and armed with an assault rifle and Glock pistols, the
officers quickly closed in on Riley—one moving down the sidewalk
toward the van, the other two crossing the roadway. They shouted
instructions at her—to walk toward them, show them her hands.
Cursing them, she refused.
the knife!” they yelled, advancing, then opened fire.
pumped two shots into her chest and another into her back as she fell
to the pavement. Fifteen seconds had elapsed from the time they
exited their vehicles.
July evening in 2014, Riley became another Native American killed by
police. Patchy government data collection makes it hard to know the
complete tally. The Washington Post and the Guardian (U.K.) have both
developed databases to fill in the gaps, but even these sometimes
misidentify or omit Native victims.
get a clearer picture, Mike Males, senior researcher at the Center on
Juvenile and Criminal Justice, looked at data the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) collected from medical examiners in 47
states between 1999 and 2011. When compared to their percentage of
the U.S. population, Natives were more likely to be killed by police
than any other group, including African Americans. By age, Natives
20-24, 25-34 and 35–44 were three of the five groups most likely to
be killed by police. (The other two groups were African Americans
20-24 and 25-34.) Males’ analysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014
shows that Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by
police than white Americans.
these killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by
mainstream U.S. media. In a paper presented in April at a Western
Social Science Association meeting, Claremont Graduate University
researchers Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel and Lily Rowen reviewed
articles about deaths-by-cop published between May 1, 2014, and
October 31, 2015, in the top 10 U.S. newspapers by circulation:
Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New
York Daily News, New York Post, Chicago Sun-Times, Denver Post,
Washington Post and Chicago
the 29 Native Americans killed by police during that time, only one
received sustained coverage—Paul Castaway, a Rosebud Sioux man shot
dead in Denver while threatening suicide. The Denver Post ran six
articles, totaling 2,577 words. The killing of Suquamish tribal
member Daniel Covarrubias, shot when he reached for his cell phone,
received a total of 515 words in the Washington
York Times (which
misidentified him as Latino). The other 27 deaths received no
this media blackout with the coverage of the next-most-likely group
to be killed by police. The researchers found that the 10 papers
devoted hundreds of articles to the 413 African Americans killed by
police in that period, as well as to Black Lives Matter (BLM)
protests and police violence more broadly. That’s largely a
testament to the power of the BLM movement, which exploded after the
Aug. 9, 2014 killing of Michael Brown. When Minneapolis police killed
both White Earth Ojibwe tribal member Philip Quinn, 30, and
African-American Jamar Clark, 24, during the fall of 2015, Clark’s
story was well-reported, while Quinn’s passing, like those of
almost all other Native victims, was barely noted.
did major media report on a spate of Native jailhouse deaths in 2015.
The statistics on “death by legal intervention”—a term used by
the CDC to describe fatalities at the hands of police—include those
that occur in custody prior to sentencing. Whether the deaths are due
to police action or neglect, the department is considered
accountable. “When people are in custody, law enforcement has
control of them and a responsibility for their welfare,” Males
report commissioned by Alaska’s Gov. Bill Walker found that Joseph
Murphy, an Alaska Native veteran of the Iraq War, died of a heart
attack in a holding cell in Juneau in August 2015, as jail staff
yelled “fuck you” and “I don’t care” in response to his
pleas. According to the report, Larry Kobuk, identified in news
articles as a 33-year-old Alaska Native, who had a heart condition
known to his jailers, died in January 2015 while being held face down
by four officers. Sarah Lee Circle Bear, a 24-year-old Sioux mother
of two jailed in South Dakota, died after reportedly complaining of
pain and being refused medical care. (At the Democratic National
Convention, Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, who has become
a vocal activist in the movement for black lives, pointed out that
Circle Bear’s death occurred during the same month her daughter
died in police custody—July 2015.)
list of 2015 deaths goes on: 53-year-old Choctaw medicine man Rexdale
Henry, in a jail cell in Mississippi; Alaska Native Gilbert Joseph,
57, in Alaska; Yurok tribal member Raymond Eacret, 34, in California.
On the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s reservation in South Dakota, an
angry crowd marched on police headquarters after tribal member
Phillip High Bear’s mother alleged her 33-year-old son was beaten
to death there. Protestors sang, drummed and shouted taunting
references to the 1890 shooting death of Lakota spiritual leader
Sitting Bull at the hands of Native police officers.
even this story received no coverage in the 10 largest papers. The
Claremont researchers stress that they are not criticizing the
important attention paid to the movement for black lives, but they
note that a larger narrative is at play: Racial issues in the United
States tend to be framed as black and white, while other groups are
Native Americans’ experiences of violence and discrimination in the
United States often parallel those of African Americans. Federal
investigations have found that on the borders of reservations, Native
Americans are treated as second-class citizens by police and public
agencies in ways that echo the experience of black Americans in towns
like Ferguson, Mo.
the past 40 years, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), an
independent government agency, has held numerous hearings on
discrimination in border towns surrounding reservations: in New
Mexico, near the Navajo reservation; in South Dakota, near the Sioux
reservations; and, just this August, in Billings, Mont., near the
Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations.
aired even in recent hearings sound like tales from the
pre-civil-rights Deep South. They ranged from denial of service in
public places to police brutality to the failure to investigate
murders. In Northern Plains states, USCCR members personally observed
staff in restaurants and stores hassling or refusing to serve
Natives. In South Dakota, the commission heard testimony about a
police department that found reasons to fine Natives hundreds of
dollars, then “allowed” them to work off the debt on a ranch.
USCCR Rocky Mountain director Malee Craft described the situation as
is the context for Native deaths at the hands of police.
high rate of these killings is also a result of the comparative
dearth of mental healthcare services for Native Americans, says
Bonnie Duran, an Opelousas/Coushatta tribe descendent and an
associate professor in the University of Washington School of Social
Work. People threatening suicide and experiencing other mental health
crises made up one-quarter of all those killed by cops in the first
half of 2016, according to data collected by the Washington Post;
they made up nearly half of the Native deaths examined by the
people in these situations—such as Riley or Castaway—can be
particularly vulnerable. Commands from multiple officers in a quickly
developing situation can be very difficult to parse, even for someone
who isn’t in crisis, says Jim Trainum, a former Washington, D.C.,
to conflicting signals from multiple sources results in a huge
cognitive demand,” says Melissa Russano, a psychologist and
criminal justice professor at Roger Williams University.
“Split-second responses are required of the individual. You have to
assess if and to what extent there is a threat, and that may create a
certain level of panic.”
funding for mental healthcare continues to plummet, police are
increasingly the first responders to mental health crises that they
are untrained for and ill-equipped to handle.
Native communities, the lack of mental healthcare services is
particularly acute, according to an analysis of CDC data by the
Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), and there’s a critical
shortage of Native professionals who understand cultural factors
affecting patients. Data from the National Congress of American
Indians illustrates this: In 2013, Indian Health Service per-capita
expenditures were $2,849, compared to $7,717 per person for
healthcare spending nationally. One indication of the situation’s
severity is the suicide rate for Natives, which in 2010 was 16.93 per
100,000, compared with 12.08 for the population as a whole, according
health resources for Native Americans are even scarcer
off-reservation, in the so-called urban-Indian communities, where
about half of the Native population lives. There, clinics are funded
at a lower rate, says Duran. This is also where the largest share of
police killings occur: 79 percent, according to Chin.
police departments have responded by training officers in crisis
intervention, which teaches them to slow down and find alternatives
to the immediate application of lethal force, or by pairing officers
with mental health professionals on calls that clearly involve such
issues. Research is not yet conclusive about what works best, says
Duran, but she stresses that the best solution is to address the
problem at the root: Fund social services.
grassroots Native Lives Matter (NLM) movement is attempting to bring
attention to the deaths, and to the larger social and economic
oppression of Native Americans. Started in late 2014, the concept was
inspired by Black Lives Matter, says one of the founders, Chase Iron
Eyes, a Lakota attorney and Democratic candidate for Congress from
South Dakota had been scrutinized by USCCR in a 2000 report, “Native
Americans in South Dakota: An Erosion of Confidence in the Justice
System.” In the hearings that led up to the report, commissioners
heard testimony about racial profiling during traffic stops, drunk
drivers receiving light or suspended sentences for killing Natives,
and, just as concerning to Natives, the white community’s denial of
the existence of racism toward Native people.
Dec. 19, 2014, Iron Eyes and other Natives marched in Rapid City,
S.D., to draw attention to police brutality against Natives. The next
day, Rapid City police fatally shot a Native man, Allen Locke, who
had attended the protest.
the beginning, Iron Eyes says, NLM was intended to encompass numerous
issues affecting Natives, from child welfare to incarceration
disparities. The Native Lives Matter Facebook page and Twitter feed
show the idea has proliferated across Indian country, with grassroots
groups adopting the slogan as an umbrella term to advocate for
environmental and social causes. “We don’t own it; everyone has a
right to it,” says Iron Eyes.
the Puyallup tribe (pronounced p-YAH-lup), an economically powerful,
4,000-member Northwest Indian nation with a successful casino,
numerous tribal and individual fishing enterprises, and a real-estate
portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. The tribe’s
reservation intersects the city of Tacoma, Wash., and members report
the same kind of police harassment documented by USCCR in other
border communities, such as being pulled over for “driving while
the Puyallup are seeking to ensure that police are held accountable
for their actions, no matter who the victim—Native or non-Native.
Puyallup were catapulted into the issue of police violence on January
28. Shortly before midnight, Tacoma police officers approached a
parked car. A convicted felon, Kenneth Wright, 36, who was wanted on
drugs and weapons charges, was in the passenger seat; his pregnant
girlfriend, 32-year-old tribal member Jacqueline Salyers, was the
driver. Minutes later, one of the officers had shot Salyers in the
head, and Wright had escaped into the night.
immediately, relatives began to question the police account of the
incident. They are now in the process of conducting their own
investigation. There is no video record: Tacoma officers used no body
or dash cams at the time, a police surveillance camera overlooking
the street allegedly malfunctioned during the event, and police
apparently destroyed three security cameras on a nearby house during
city of Tacoma, however, freely provided In
These Times with
hundreds of pages of witness statements, detectives’ reports, 911
calls, logs of police-vehicle movements, scene photographs and more,
assembled for its internal investigation.
to the official account, Scott Campbell, the officer who shot
Salyers, said that while on patrol, he recognized Wright and, behind
the wheel, saw “a Native American female that appeared to be around
30 years of age.” His partner, Aaron Joseph, stopped their cruiser
across the street.
two officers challenged Salyers and Wright to put their hands up.
According to Campbell, Salyers then accelerated the car toward him;
he says he shot at her to save his life.
the eight shots discharged, four hit Salyers. No shots hit Wright,
who, when apprehended weeks later, told investigators he had ducked
the gunfire, the officers took cover. Campbell told police
investigators that he hid behind the bed of a pickup truck with his
pistol pointed toward Salyers’ vehicle. From this spot, he observed
Wright “climbing around in the front of the vehicle [and]
attempting to retrieve something from the rear of the vehicle,”
screaming “you fucking killed her” and other accusations,
clambering over the “apparently shot female,” exiting the car on
the driver’s side and running away, armed with a rifle.
police account raises a number of questions. Why did Campbell believe
shooting the driver would stop a car that was in gear and underway?
Why would an officer duck, pistol in hand, and watch while a
dangerous wanted criminal laboriously armed himself and escaped into
a residential neighborhood? In what would undoubtedly be a dangerous
and quickly changing situation, why didn’t the officers call for
back-up or first look for a way to get Salyers, a bystander, out of
half an hour later, two officers removed Salyers from her
vehicle—dragged her, according to a witness from the
neighborhood—and put her in a patrol car. According to Tacoma
Police Department spokesperson Loretta Cool, “The suspect, in the
area with a rifle, would dictate moving to a safer location to
administer medical aid.” Cool declined to comment further, citing
the possibility of a lawsuit.
in the new location, Salyers was dragged back out of the patrol car
and onto the pavement, where Campbell performed chest compressions.
Medics arrived and Salyers was pronounced dead. At some point, her
right arm was broken, but not by a bullet; her family discovered this
while preparing her for burial.
on the Tacoma Police Department’s internal investigation and the
medical examiner’s report, the county prosecutor found the shooting
justified. A review board later affirmed these findings, announcing
on August 16 that “Campbell’s use of deadly force was reasonable
and within department policy.” Salyers’ family strenuously
objects to that conclusion.
killing horrified residents of the multi-ethnic Tacoma neighborhood.
Gary Harrison, a 48-year-old African-American veteran, was awakened
by the gunfire. The shooting happened right in front of his home. “I
saw [Jackie’s] car and so many police, for blocks around,” he
recalls. Two of his housemates told the others, “They shot Jackie.”
He had known the young woman. “She always had a smile for you,”
he says, eyes bright with tears.
Salyers’ funeral, her mother, Lisa Earl, 53, called for justice—not
only for her daughter, but for everyone impacted by excessive use of
force by law enforcement. Her tribe took up the challenge under the
banner “Justice for Jackie, Justice for All.”
her killing, Salyers’ relatives met weekly at the Puyallup Little
Wild Wolves Youth/Community Center, where Earl works, to mourn and to
plan a March 16 two-mile protest march from the tribal headquarters
to Tacoma’s federal courthouse. Nearly 300 people turned out.
Family and tribal members were joined by other Tacoma residents who
had lost loved ones to police shootings and citizens involved with
other issues, such as workers’ rights and the environment. In May,
family members joined tribal council member Tim Reynon on a trip to
Washington, D.C., to press the Department of Justice’s Office of
Tribal Justice for an independent investigation of the shooting. At
press time, no decision had been made whether to undertake one.
time went by, others in the region—both Native and non-Native—who
had lost friends and relatives to police killings began attending the
family’s gatherings, which continue regularly. They recount their
stories in a traditional Puyallup talking circle (during which
participants express themselves in turn and without interruption),
then share a meal. Each person is in a different phase of their
grieving, says James Rideout, 45, Lisa Earl’s brother. “They are
in such tender moments.”
the evening of June 20, In
These Times attended
one of the meetings. As participants filtered into the community
center, they hugged, exchanged bits of gossip and found places in a
circle of chairs. They were Native, black, white and Latino, young
and old, united by concern about friends, family and neighbors lost
in encounters with the police. The scent of cooking crab—gathered
by Rideout in the Puget Sound earlier that day—wafted over the
gathering, as participants told stories of tragedy and survival.
Taylor, 48, spoke about what he called the “execution” of his
brother, Che Taylor, an African American shot to death at age 46 in
Seattle earlier this year. Silvia Sabon, a 53-year-old Tlingit tribal
member, described the death of a 23-year-old Latino family friend,
Oscar Perez-Giron, whom she says was killed on a bus platform by
police challenging his lack of a ticket. African-American mother
Crystal Chaplin, 52, said that in May 2015, Olympia, Wash., police
shot both of her sons, Andre Thompson, then 23, and Bryson Chaplin,
then 21, in the back. Both survived, but Bryson was paralyzed.
is welcome [at the meeting],” says Sabon. “It doesn’t matter
what color you are. We are all going through the same thing.”
the family and tribal community have acknowledged the Native Lives
Matter movement, the thrust of the Puyallup’s efforts has been
ecumenical. This approach makes sense culturally to the Puyallup.
Their name for themselves in their language connotes “generous and
welcoming behavior to all people who enter our lands.”
the police killings happened to people who didn’t have a tribe to
back them up, they were alone, on their own out there,” says
Rideout. “When our tribe took a position on this issue, we realized
we had an opportunity to take care of them all, to bring them along
addition, says tribal council member Reynon, a tribe can be effective
in a ways an individual advocate or advocacy group cannot. “We have
a trust relationship with the federal government, so we are a
sovereign nation with the full weight of the United States behind us.
We also have the recognition and respect of local governments.”
Puyallup tribe supports a Washington state ballot initiative that
seeks greater police accountability for lethal use of force. The bill
that the initiative would put before the legislature is named for
John T. Williams. He is one of few Natives whose death-by-cop, in
Seattle in 2010, received more coverage. Then 50, he was shot by an
officer who first claimed Williams lunged at him with a knife, though
eyewitnesses contradicted this. The shooting was termed unjustified,
but the officer never faced criminal penalties.
the ballot initiative, we want to build a model for this issue that
can be replicated around the nation,” says Chester Earl, 42,
Salyers’ cousin. “On January 28, our family was made part of a
circle of families throughout the nation who are living with this
have joined individuals and groups statewide, like the NAACP, that
are collecting signatures; 250,000 are needed by the end of 2016 to
put the measure before the legislature.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced that he backed the bill, a Seattle
Police Department representative said, “We support the mayor’s
position on the initiative, so by default, we support it.” It
appears to be the only police department in the state to issue a
positive response to the potential change.
another development, state legislative leaders have appointed Reynon
to a new Joint Legislative Task Force on Deadly Force and Community
Policing, a committee drawn from community groups as well as law
enforcement. The bill establishing the task force acknowledges the
danger police are often placed in as they protect the community, but
it also seeks ways to reduce violent interactions between law
enforcement and the public.
have to find a solution that works for everyone,” says Reynon. “It
will mean change, and change is never easy.”
Salyers’ family, it’s been a painful process. “We never asked
to be a part of this,” Rideout says. “We always want to stress
the good narratives, our children succeeding. But now that we are
involved, we must ensure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
for Jackie . . . and for Jennie
involvement means the possibility of real and lasting change to
Ramona Bennett, a Puyallup elder in her late seventies. “People and
movements may fade, but a tribe doesn’t go away,” says Bennett, a
former tribal chairwoman and long-time activist who was gassed,
clubbed, shot at and arrested during 1970s “fish-ins” to demand
recognition of treaty-guaranteed fishing rights.
Puyallup have long been easy victims in Tacoma, Bennett says.
Traditionally, they lived in communal longhouses, but
late-19th-century presidential proclamations and Congressional
actions broke up the reservation and forced tribal members to move to
isolated cabins on separate plots. “Fishing and trapping were
outlawed, so the men went out at night, making the cabins very
dangerous,” says Bennett. “White men would come, kick the doors
in, rape and murder the [women] and throw their bodies on the
railroad tracks, where they’d be called ‘railroad accident
deaths.’ … We discovered in our tribal enrollment office a stack
of ‘railroad death’ documents from 1912 to 1917.’’ Among them
was one that recorded the death of Bennett’s grandmother Jennie.
Justice for Jackie, Justice for All effort will succeed, Bennett
believes. “But I’m still out for justice for Jennie ... a girl
who has been dead for 104 years.”
>> The article above was written by Stephanie Woodard, and is reprinted from In These Times.