This week, the National Native American Bar Association issued a statement of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. It followed statements about police conduct, in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, from the National Bar Association, the Minnesota American Indian Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the American Bar Association and the Native American Bar Association of D.C.
Native people are at least as likely to be killed by law enforcement as African Americans. Both have the highest rates of law enforcement encounters and incarceration, compared to whites. But a local lawyer who helped craft the statement from the National Native American Bar Association says there’s an important distinction to be made about the encounters they have with police.
“In my experience, the reason indigenous peoples are being killed by the police isn't necessarily to do with their skin color,” said Gabe Galanda, a Seattle-based indigenous rights attorney.
The statement lists five recent indigenous lives that were lost to police, three of which happened in Western Washington. Galanda says all five had one thing in common. He says the main reason the police were called was concern about the welfare of the individual who was killed.
“What precipitated the police encounter was a moment of mental illness or mental health crisis," Galanda said. "And then some of the same dynamics unfold, meaning untrained police who shoot or suffocate rather than resuscitate or save life.”
Galanda says it’s important to remember this as people push for police reforms. He says high rates of mental illness in indigenous communities are a result of historic trauma because of displacement and forced assimilation. So, as law enforcement resources are re-allocated, he says funding for community mental health services must be part of the conversation.