Law | Opinion

Lydia Millet: Deaths of Native people ignored by national media

Paul Castaway was shot and killed by a police officer in Denver, Colorado, on July 12, 2015. image from Denver District Attorney

Author Lydia Millet calls on the nation to pay more attention to the deaths of Native Americans at the hands of law enforcement:
In August 2010 John T. Williams, a homeless woodcarver of the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe who made his living selling his work near the Pike Place market in Seattle, was shot four times by a police officer within seconds of failing to drop the knife and piece of cedar he was carrying (Mr. Williams had mental health problems and was deaf in one ear). He died; the folding knife was found closed on the ground. The young police officer who shot Mr. Williams resigned, but he never faced criminal charges, even though the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board called the shooting unjustified.

In South Dakota in 2013, a police officer used his Taser to shock an 8-year-old, 70-pound Rosebud Sioux girl holding a knife; the force of the shock hurled her against a wall. After an investigation, the officer’s actions were deemed appropriate.

That same year 18-year-old Mah-hi-vist (Red Bird) Goodblanket of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes was killed by the police in his parents’ home in Oklahoma just before Christmas. They’d called 911 because their son was having a violent episode after a misunderstanding with his girlfriend. Before the police entered their home Red Bird’s father begged them, “Please, don’t shoot my son.” A few minutes later, the parents would count seven bullet holes in their son’s body — one in the back of his head. The exact narrative of the incident, which fittingly took place in Custer County, is in dispute.

In November 2014, also in Oklahoma, Christina Tahhahwah of the Comanche tribe died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. Fellow inmates claim that jail guards shocked her with a Taser for refusing to stop singing Comanche hymns.

In December 2014, one day after attending a #NativeLivesMatter rally against police violence, Allen Locke, a 30-year-old Lakota man, was shot dead by the police in South Dakota. Mr. Locke had been holding a steak knife at the time he was hit by up to five bullets; the shooting was deemed justified a month later.

Most recently, in July, a 24-year-old Lakota mother of two named Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in a South Dakota jail of a methamphetamine overdose. Her death, which involved a two-hour time lapse between the first signs of physical distress and her transport to a hospital, got almost no national media attention.

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Lydia Millet: Native Lives Matter, Too (The New York Times 10/13)

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