Death, Law Enforcement and Communities of Color

André Crmblit

It is hard to make sense of the horrors of the past couple weeks. We have seen more tragedies with deaths involving the police and men of ethnic backgrounds. Sadly it is becoming all to common to start the day with news that there has been another case of another senseless death, usually with a police officer shooting, harming and or killing a minority male. We hear about the more infamous cases that are videoed but there are numerous others that stay out of the public’s limited attention span and under the radar. This is a website that shows “Police Kill Natives At Highest Rate Of Any Race,” and Nobody is Talking About It.” This last week also saw the brutal violence in reverse with the killing of law enforcement personnel in Dallas at was supposed to be a peaceful rally in support of earlier incidents in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.

I am no stranger to these types of issues involving the police department. I have been pulled over and ticketed for no better reason than Driving While Indian. One time when I was in high school I was pulled over and rudely interrogated by police as I was running from a school playground with a bag full of sports equipment. They assumed I was perpetrating a minor crime. It took me far too long to convince them that I was actually jogging home with the balls and stuff I used as a volunteer coach for a peewee flag football team. I have been on the other side as well. My father was a policeman while I was growing up. I remember being confined to our house and not being allowed to play outside. It seems that the Native criminals in our town had threatened my father and our family for not being more lenient with them in light of the fact he was married to my American Indian Mother. The day is etched in my memory when my dad, who was an undercover narcotics cop at the time, was taking me to school when I was in the first or second grade. When he stopped to get me a treat at a local mini-mart we were accosted by one of the dealers he had previously arrested. He pulled a gun on us and leveled it at me and told my father how easy it would be to pay him back for putting him behind bars. Luckily he left it at that and pealed of in a cloud of smoke and the sound of grinding gears.

I wish there was some technology that could sense the adrenaline levels of an officer in the midst of a detention and was able to switch from firing a lethal bullet to deliver a less final solution, maybe a Taser dart or soft projectile to incapacitate the arrestee. Even better would be a Star Trek style phaser that would be on a permanent stun setting that would effectively take down the person in question. It is hard to second-guess the hazards of a real time event with potential harm to the officer or to the greater public. Thanks to technology such as camera phones and new video streaming apps, documentation of the event can revel important evidence of what actually took place. A greater use of community review boards is needed to replace the potentially biased Internal Affairs investigations that have many times in the past closed ranks behind the thin blue line.

It is clear, through the events of the past few years, that there is a systemic problem that has led to the needless deaths of minorities for what should have been trivial offenses such as broken tail lights. Statistics show that nearly 80% of traffic stops are initiated by some problem with lights such as not having them on, failing to dim them, broken bulbs, turn signals not used or left on, etc.

My son is living this summer in the San Francisco bay area. It was with a heavy heart that I had to tell him to be vigilant around policemen. This is despite the fact that I raised him to look to them for protection, justice and fairness. I instructed him to be cautious, especially at night, and be extra polite if ever pulled over and to bite his tongue when insulted. I said it was better to be arrested and spend a night in jail to deal with the dispute in the clear light of the next day rather than risk a fatal confrontation over nothing.

In the terms of the recent Native activist movement we need to “Rise Up-Idle More.” Do we need a resurgence of the red beret urban protectors, or the American Indian Movement, which was founded to protect the Indian community. For more information regarding American Indians and recent problems with law enforcement please see NATIVE LIVES MATTER. NDN Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Asian Lives Matter, Latino Lives Matter and yes Police Lives Matter. It is simple: ALL LIVES MATTER!!!

Just my two dentalias’ worth.

André Cramblit is a Karuk Tribal Member from the Klamath and Salmon rivers in northwest California and the Operations Director of the Northern California Indian Development Council. He lives with his wife Wendy and son Kyle in Arcata, California.



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