Indian Country Today
by: Harlan McKosato
The Black Lives Matter movement is making an impact here in the U.S., even though I’m not sure what exactly the movement is all about except that they want to reverse racial injustice. What I do know is that Native Lives Matter as well. Statistically speaking, based on numbers and percentages, more Natives are killed by the police than any other group of people in this country. That’s a fact.
The national media never mentions that more Natives are killed by police, per capita, than any other racial or ethnic group. The media’s excuse about their lack of attention is that American Indians and Alaska Natives make up only about two percent of the U.S. population, so therefore reporting about our people who have been killed by the cops doesn’t matter. Well, guess what? Native lives do matter.
What I want to think about is how we, as Native Americans, should attempt to capitalize on the attention being paid to how minorities in this country are unfairly treated on far too many occasions by law enforcement. It is time our tribal leaders start to give a voice to the unfair treatment and sentencing our tribal people have to suffer through, especially here in the cities of America and border towns.
Albuquerque is notorious for its treatment of Native people, and in particular the homeless Native people from the surrounding reservations. I hear instances of the Albuquerque Police Department using excessive force from many Native people who live on the streets – mainly along Central Avenue. Fortunately, I have never been in that situation and I hope and pray I never will.
There were a couple of instances growing up in Oklahoma where I felt I was being harassed. One time I had an officer pull a gun on me in a case of mistaken identity. I never felt he would pull the trigger and I gave him no reason to, and the situation was diffused when the victim of the crime came to my rescue and said, “He’s not the one.”
Don’t get me wrong. I am not an anti-police advocate. My brother-in-law led the Special Investigations Unit for the BIA for years here in the Albuquerque area. My nephew is a deputy sheriff back in Oklahoma, and my son’s uncle is a tribal cop as well. When my home was robbed last year I didn’t call Black Lives Matter, I called the APD. They responded quickly, wrote an accurate report which helped my home insurance company replace much of my belongings that were stolen.
That’s beside the point. I think more young black men kill other young black men at a much higher percentage than the police. In fact, I guarantee it. You can look up the statistics. It’s not even close. There were 69 shootings in Chicago over this year’s Memorial Day weekend, mostly on the West Side, but I don’t recall seeing one protest. I don’t recall seeing one riot in the Windy City. The black people of Chicago and across the U.S. didn’t seem to lift much of an eyebrow over those shootings.
So what about Indians killing other Indians? Statistics are hard to find, but I’m certain that more Indians have been killed by other Indians over the past several years than the police. But I understand when Blacks, Hispanics and Natives get angry when one of their loved ones is killed by any color (white, black, brown) cop, especially when they are unarmed and in a surrender position. It brings up so many painful feelings and outrage from what has happened over the years in this country. I get it.
We should lobby President Obama to at least bring up the facts about Native deaths, emphatically, in one of his press conferences and along the campaign trail. We should lobby the mainstream media to pay attention to what’s happening amongst our Indian people. We should get our tribal leaders to take a good, hard look at the disparities within the country’s justice systems and start a coalition of Native Lives Matter – but the focus doesn’t have to just be on police racism and prejudice.
We should focus on the homelessness, diabetes, joblessness, lack of educational opportunities, etc. etc. We should lock onto the thought of Native Lives Matter and reach out to other minorities, such as the African Americans, and ask some of their cultural icons and spokespersons to bring us together to send a message that all lives matter and that unquestionably includes Native Americans.