Monday, November 22, 2010


A haunting story of what lengths people will go to in order to get law enforcement by the always outstanding Mac McClelland.
"It's about justice," Ruben, 29, tells me when I say it doesn't make any sense for victims to scrape together a pile of beating-up money after getting their cash stolen. "People want people either beat up or locked up. And on a reservation, they're probably not gonna get anybody locked up."

Statistically speaking, he's probably right. The rate of violent crime among Native Americans is twice the national average (PDF); on some reservations, it's 20 times higher. At least one in three American Indian women will be raped (PDF) in their lifetimes. Yet just 3,000 tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) officers—the only kinds of cops with jurisdiction on Indian land—patrol 56 million acres. In 2008, the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas had nine officers for 9,000 people in an area twice the size of Delaware. (A typical town with the same population has three times that number.) Tribal courts can only prosecute misdemeanors such as petty theft and public intoxication. They can't issue sentences longer than one year without meeting special criteria, and even then, three years is the maximum. More serious crimes must be handled by federal prosecutors, who turn down 65 percent (PDF) of the reservation cases referred to them.

Non-Indians commit two-thirds of violent crimes against Indians, including 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults. Yet thanks to a 1978 Supreme Court ruling, tribes can not prosecute outsiders who commit crimes on their land. (The case involved a white guy who'd assaulted a tribal police officer and another who'd attempted a high-speed getaway from reservation cops.)

 Like something out of a Tony Hillerman or Lee Child novel, only this is real.  Luckily, somebody is doing something about it:

In July, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act (PDF) in the White House's East Room. Standing beside him were two Indian men in headdresses, and Lisa Marie Iyotte, a Lakota woman whose rape case the feds had decided, without even interviewing her, not to pursue. (She couldn't stop sobbing, even after Obama put his arm around her.) The act includes reforms like increasing tribal courts' sentencing authority to three years—if they provide public defenders and trained judges. It mandates that tribal officers be instructed how to interview sexual-assault victims and collect evidence. It requires the Department of Justice to keep track of any Indian cases it declines to prosecute, and to gather more statistics on crime on Indian land. Obama called it "an important step to help the federal government better address the unique public safety challenges that confront tribal communities."

Most likely Americans never heard of the TLO Act, let alone that President Obama signed it into law.  But we're all too worried about what Obama hasn't done for us these days, and continue to ignore what he has accomplished.

No comments: