Friday, November 16, 2012

More on federal failures to police Indian country

Timothy Williams reported a few days ago in the New York Times on federal cut backs in funding for the policing of Indian lands.  As with several of his stories (here and here) back in February this year, Williams refers specifically to the situation on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  But he also provides data, anecdotes, and quotes from tribes across the West and Southwest.  He also makes frequent comparisons to law enforcement efforts in metropolitan areas.  The lede for Williams's story follows:
The federal government has cut the size of its police force in Indian country, reduced financing for law enforcement and begun fewer investigations of violent felony crime, even as rates of murder and rape there have increased to more than 20 times the national average, according to data. 
* * *
As one illustration of the profound increase in violence in recent years — despite generally declining crime in much of the rest of the nation — F.B.I. crime data reports that the number of reported rapes on the Navajo reservation in the Southwest in the last several years has eclipsed those in nine of America’s 20 largest cities, even though there are only 180,000 people on the reservation.
With 374 reported rapes on the Navajo Reservation in 2009, that territory outpaced even Detroit, with 335 rapes for the same year.  

Williams's article provides a great deal of data which illustrates the point that, while crime rates have risen in Indian country, federal investments in law enforcement there have fallen.  He also offers several comparisons with the investments that metropolitan police departments make in their police forces, even when those police forces are responsible for fewer citizens and much, much smaller land areas.  

While 1.6 million American Indians are spread over 56 million acres of Indian country, the federal government (through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Justice Department) contributed $322 million to tribal law enforcement programs in 2012.  Meanwhile, Philadelphia spent $552 million on a police budget to keep safe 1.5 million residents, and Phoenix spent $540 million to police 1.4 million residents.   

Failures to adequately fund public safety in Indian country extend to tribal prosecutors and courts, too, as Williams amply documents. 

Chronic failures of tribal law enforcement have led to underreporting of crime, with some estimates indicating that only 10% of crimes are reported.  Gyasi Ross, a lawyer and member of the Blackfoot tribe, explains:
I’m not going to have a bit of faith in the system unless you make it safe and the guy who did this to me is going to be behind bars for a very long time. ... I need some assurances because I’m taking my life in my hands.
In reading this devastating story, I was struck by how its theme is a central one of Louise Erdrich's most recent novel, The Round House, for which she was just awarded the National Book Award.   The New York Times describes the book as "a novel about a teenage boy’s effort to investigate an attack on his mother on a North Dakota reservation, and his struggle to come to terms with the violence in their culture."  Read Michiko Kakutani's book review here.

No comments: