There were at least eight fatal police shootings of Native Americans in October. “I’m overwhelmed,” said Marlee Kanosh, Paiute Tribe of Utah. Her Facebook page, Native Lives Taken By Police, is a source for information on police violence affecting indigenous people. With careful, respectful research and comprehensive coverage, she chronicles a terrible toll: Natives killed outright by police and those who die in custody.
The workload, which she does as a volunteer, is always heavy, but in recent weeks it has been unexpectedly worse. “I have so many deaths to look into now,” she said. “My notebooks are full. I have piles of paper everywhere.”
The number of Natives who died in October is much higher than the monthly average found in a 2016 study by Claremont Graduate University scholars Roger Chin, Jean Schroedel and Lily Rowen. They uncovered 29 deaths in a recent 15-month period, for an average of about two a month. The October police-shooting fatalities occurred around the country—one each in Washington state, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska and Nevada, along with three in Oklahoma.
Kanosh criticized police claims that citizens should simply follow orders to survive these encounters. “We have a saying here in Utah, ‘Comply or Die—It’s Not the Law!’” Kanosh said. “What about our rights? We didn’t put up our hands fast enough? Someone instinctively pulled up his pants when cops ordered him to crawl forward on his knees? How can we possibly know exactly what’s expected of us in these horrible situations? And because we don’t, we die?”
Police need to better communicate what exactly compliance entails, according to Chin. That’s because officers in different jurisdictions may expect the public to behave in unique ways, he explained. “For example, while most academies train officers to have a driver remain inside the vehicle during a traffic stop, I discovered on a trip to Louisiana that sometimes officers want individuals to exit the vehicle in order to see better what they are doing. The public needs to know these and other expectations.”