American Indians Remain Victims of Prejudice and Violent Crime
Justice Department Releases Results of Study
American Indians are victims of violent crimes at more than twice the national average. Using data gathered from 1992-1996, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that Indians were victims of violent crimes at a rate of 124 per 1,000 persons age 12 and older. The national average is 50 per 1,000 persons. The average for whites is 49 per 1,000; for Blacks, 61 per 1,000; and, for Asians, 29 per 1,000. The survey also reported that a full 60 percent of the perpetrators of violent crimes against Indians were white; 10 percent were described as Black. This is in contrast to other studies which show that 69 percent of violent crimes against whites were by whites, and 81 percent of violent crimes against Blacks were by Blacks. The survey also reported that alcohol played a part in violent crimes against Indians in 46% of the cases.
"This highlights what has been going on out there for 130 years, since the beginning of the reservation system," said Sidney Harring, a professor of law at the City University of New York School of Law and an expert on Indian crime and criminal law.
Harring said much of the violence against Indians by other racial groups was attributable to racism and alcohol, "with Indians being victimized by poor, drunken whites, people on the margins hurting each other." There are still high levels of prejudice against Indians in the West, where most Indians live, he said, and a culture that lives on the edges of Indian reservations "that tolerates this violence," even among law enforcement officials (Butterfield, New York Times).
An editorial in the April 13 Pittsburgh Post Gazette concludes that "today its not prospectors or the cavalry the Indians have to fear; but violent assault, prejudice and racism. This country can hardly lecture other nations about their human rights deficiencies while American Indians are treated as second-class citizens."
The statistics are certainly "shocking and instructive," as the same PG editorial proclaims. However, do the analyses perpetuate just another set of myths regarding the factors that contribute to such violence against American Indians? Mainstream Americans will find it convenient to attribute these crimes to "poor drunken whites," while ignoring that 54% of violent crimes against Indians are not related to alcohol. Not all crimes against Indians are ones defined by the Bureau of Justice Statistics as "violent" (rape and sexual assault, robberies, aggravated and simple assault). Crimes such as land theft, withholding of lease monies, and stigmatizing government welfare policies contribute to the overall climate of violence that permeates Indian Country. After all, the "high levels of prejudice against Indians in the West" go well beyond "people on the margins." Indian reservations themselves are crowded with non-Indian ranchers, bureaucrats, teachers, store owners, and human service providers who know little about the culture of the peoples whose lands they inhabit. Ignorance and greed create the "violence of social neglect" that goes hand-in-hand with the violent crimes studied.
Yes, this country can hardly lecture other nations about their human rights deficiencies.