Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other group of people in the United States. That’s according to research reported in the article “The Police Killings No One is Talking About” for In These Times. Compared with other groups, such as African Americans, police killings of Native Americans got little coverage from mainstream media sources such as The New York Times and Washington Post.
The author of the article, Stephanie Woodard, said this is because the media often is far removed from the places where Native Americans live.
“Big media outlets tend to be far from places where reservations are located, so tribes can feel very foreign to editors sitting in a skyscraper somewhere,” she explained. “And tribes may also seem long ago and far away, even though they are actually contemporary cultures, albeit with a deep history, and should be part of the American conversation.”
A paper presented by Claremont University researchers said 29 Native Americans were killed by police between May 2014 and October 2015. Yet only two of those deaths received coverage. In one case, the victim was mistakenly identified as Latino.
In the article, Woodard cast light on the story of Puyallup tribe member Jacqueline Salyers. In January, Tacoma police officers approached the car where the 32-year-old, pregnant Salyers was sitting with her boyfriend Kenneth Wright, a convicted felon. What happened next is still unclear, but according to the police account Salyers accelerated toward the officers. One officer shot back, killing Salyers. Her boyfriend escaped.
Salyers’ uncle James Rideout said he and his family were unhappy with the police investigation that followed, so they formed a community policing group and started supporting Initiative 873 to make police culpable in these situations.
“Apparently, this is the only state in the United States that has malice and good faith in their policing procedures, and with that law, it enables officers to never, ever be charged for any and all actions that occur in any police shooting,” he said.
Police officers are concerned they will be punished for doing their jobs if the initiative passes. I-873 needs 250,000 signatures by the end of the year to appear before Washington lawmakers.
Woodard said there are other ways to make sure conflict doesn’t escalate so quickly, starting with police training.
“Generally, not rush toward the use of force, and possibly lethal force, but rather slow down and see if there are other options,” she added. “That may seem obvious but it is a new aspect of their training.”
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.