Column: The American tradition of neglect and #NativeLivesMatter

Over the past few years, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken off, drawing public attention to the often overlooked injustices of the law enforcement system. But with this much-needed awareness and media coverage of the incongruities of law enforcement action with regard to African Americans, other minorities have been neglected. In fact, the movement known as Native Lives Matter has been active since 2014, and yet, it has experienced next to no media coverage, despite the fact that Native Americans are proportionately the racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement, according to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

The CJCJ report notes that while Native Americans make up 0.8 percent of the American population, they account for 1.9 percent of police killings. This is 2.38 times the percentage of Native Americans in the population, while the percentage of police killings with African American victims is 26 percent -  two times the population percentage of 13 percent. Since the African American population is so much greater, it is understandable that Black Lives Matter has received more coverage, due to the higher frequency of police killings with black victims. However, it is a massive disservice to the Native American community to use this as an excuse to disregard their sufferings.

In response to such unyielding discrimination, Native Americans, too, have been forced to mistrust law enforcement. According to an Al Jazeera Report, for example, Karin Eagle of the Lakota tribe has had to explain to her 15-year-old son why he should not walk down the street with more than two other friends, and why he should always keep his hands visible. Otherwise, she believes police officers will assume he is a member of a gang. Similarly, Celeste Two Crow of Rapid City will probably abandon calling the police for help after she called 911 to have law enforcement officers take her drunk husband out of her house until he sobered up. Despite Two Crow’s claims that her husband, Allen Locke, did not violently lunge at the officers, they shot him five times and killed him. Only the day before, he had attended a Native Lives Matter march to promote the rights of Native Americans.

But the neglect of Native Lives Matter does not end with police killings. Instead, it encompasses a long history of injustices toward Native Americans that have been swept under the rug, from massacres and forced removals to the destruction of Native American culture. And the ramifications of this long train of abuses can still be seen in the United States today, where natives are still treated as somewhat “less than American.” According to the Economic Policy Institute, with all other factors identical, Native Americans are 31 percent less likely to be employed than white Americans. Native American children are also more likely to be suspended from school than children of any other race, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection. The incarceration rate for Native Americans is 38 percent higher than the national average, as reported by the Department of Justice, and prison sentences are longer on average than those of white Americans. And as if this is not enough, the DOJ has also found that Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual assault crimes. In fact, 1 in 3 American Indian women report having been raped at least once.

The living conditions of Native Americans are far below those of the average American, and yet the only time Native Americans are actually considered in public policy is to promote some progressive image or to offer up a low-effort defense for amnesty and immigration policies. Instead, the vast majority of the nation chooses to bury their heads in the sand at the first mention of this forgotten minority. To a large extent, I believe it has to do with guilt and the complexity of the situation. How do you remunerate a minority group for fifty states of stolen land and countless murders? Well, the answer is not to ignore the problem, but to pay more attention to our domestic issues. It is hypocritical to sympathize with and make examples of third world countries, while the third world exists within our own borders. We must acknowledge that Native lives matter just as much as every other life out there.


Alex Oliveira is a staff writer for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.