by Doug George-Kanentiio Akwesasne Mohawk
I, along with millions of others, watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, 45, charged in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the killing of George Floyd, 46, on May 25, 2020. Numerous witnesses including Darnella Fraser, then 17, provided the jury and the world with the visual information necessary to convict Chauvin via a cell phone recording capturing the brutality. On April 23 Derek Chavin was convicted of all three counts involving Floyd’s death.
Chauvin was found to be a murderer who, despite pleas from the many witnesses present on the scene, refused to lift his knee off a prone Floyd and over the course of 9 minutes and 22 seconds applied enough pressure to smother Floyd while grinding his face into the street pavement.
I was stunned at the video which shows one of the four officers involved in the murder approach Mr. Floyd as he sat in his vehicle, using a pistol to bang on the driver’s side of the car. Former Officer Thomas Lane, the banger, was apparently pleased with the look of terror on Floyd’s face when he saw the pistol pointed at his head without cause. Floyd, as a black man, may well have thought he was about to be manhandled and assaulted by members of a police force with a long history of using brutal tactics against African Americans. Those four cops were arrogant, callous and felt they had the power to do as they pleased with Mr. Floyd regardless of who was watching, or filming. They knew there was very little chance they would be disciplined or charged for their actions given the influence their union has on regional politics and within the justice system. For generations the cops in Minneapolis were not peace officers but law enforcers and highly armed oppressors willing to use deadly tactics to instill fear inside blacks, Latinos and Native people.
In particular the Minneapolis police have displayed cruelty towards indigenous men and women which became so blatant it led to the formation of a Native safety patrol to escort others through the city. This group became the American Indian Movement in 1968 to combat police brutality but the shootings and killings by the police continue.
From 2000-2021 the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported 208 killings by Minnesota police of which 15 (7%) were Native.
This reflects an overall traumatic trend in the United States where Natives are killed by cops at the highest rate of any ethnic group. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2017 that Natives died at the hands of the cops at a rate 12% higher than black citizens and three times at the rate of whites. None of these killings have been given the media attention as that of Mr. Floyd; there are no instances when a courageous civilian was on the scene of a distant reservation with a charged video camera at the exact moment a victim is killed.
There is a group called Native Lives Matter on Facebook which does report on these killings but a complete investigation by the federal government has yet to begin.
Among the dead are victims of many nations including the following:
Jason Pero, Anishnabe
Jacob Wood, Maliseet
Jesse Rose, Mohawk
Raymond Eacret, Yurok
Christina Tahhawah, Comanche
Paul Castaway, Lakota
Loreal Tsingine, Navajo
Jeanetta Riley, Suquamish
Corey Kanosh, Paiute
Rexdale Henry, Choctaw
Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, Cheyenne
Jacqueline Sayers, Puyallup
Add to this the list of missing and murdered Native women, which amounts to the hundreds, and it is obvious the relations between law enforcement and indigenous people are in a state of crisis.
At Akwesasne the tensions between the people and the “Indian” police are also in a state of stress. As advocates for indigenous sovereignty and the restoration of traditional law, the Mohawks live in a state of contradiction and confusion as the 12,000 hectare land base, located astride the international border between Canada and the US, is subjected to the most intense physical surveillance of any community in North America. There are drones, spotter planes, cell phone tower monitors, and police patrols everywhere.
Police agencies all state their claim: US Border Patrol, Canadian Border Security Agency, New York State Police, Ontario Provincial Police, Surete du Quebec, the FBI, RCMP and the two tribal-band council police none of which respect the ancestral peacekeeping customs of the Mohawk people but bring the threat of brute force to compel the people to obey laws and regulations imposed upon the Mohawks without their consent.
The issue for the Mohawks is the nature of policing itself. In former times justice and harmony was under the control of the three clans; Bear, Wolf and Turtle, who selected among themselves individuals who had the capacity to address acts of criminal behavior with the rule of restoring harmony versus the adversarial systems in the US and Canada.
The Mohawks of former times lived in a society without jails. They lived in a society which shared all of its resources equitably and were absent of any artificial class distinctions. From each according to ability and to each according to need. All were housed, nurtured, fed and clothed. Without the obsession of personal property there was nothing to steal, no need to go hungry or to feel the angst of deprivation. Those who oversaw the peace of the community were not law enforcers but peacekeepers.
Perhaps that is where to begin the end to police brutality: take away the sidearms, emphasize peace making in all training sessions, remove all military gear, and take away the psychological burdens in which the cops, by style of dress and the potential of killing by firearm, come to believe they are distinct from who they serve. To end the world where the people are the enemy and need to be made to shut up, follow commands and accept that their sacred lives are the mercy of those who wear a badge.
Killing another human is what they can do with an almost complete immunity from prosecution.
For Native victims of these killings there will be no Darnella Fraser, no national media, no indictments, no justice.
The logical and reasonable response is to convert the police into a different way of responding to human crises by using traditional conflict resolution methods instead of the taser and the pistol. Until then, more of our people will be beaten, arrested and confined and some will die; alone, ignored and without a voice to cry out for justice.