Uneven data and media prejudices delay justice for the missing and murdered …


(MENAFN- The Conversation) No one knows how many Indigenous girls or women go missing each year.

There are estimates. In 2019, 8,162 Indigenous youth and 2,285 Indigenous adults were reported missing from the National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, out of a total of 609,275 cases. But crimes against natives often go unreported, and in the cases of American Indians and Alaska Indians, the race is sometimes ignored or mistakenly classified as white.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that Native American women are murdered at a rate three times that of white American women.

I have almost become a part of statistics like these. As a child, I was attacked by someone who usually targeted and killed children isolated from rural areas. I know firsthand that the threat of being attacked and “disappearing” is real. And as an academic who studies tribal justice and has tried to draw attention to the problem of missing and murdered indigenous peoples, I find the lack of reliable data particularly frustrating. It is difficult to draw media attention to the seriousness of a problem that cannot be clearly measured.

Additionally, as the recent Gabby Petito case shows, the US media tends to provide more compassionate coverage when the victim is a young white woman – a phenomenon former PBS presenter Gwen Ifill called ” the missing white woman ”.

So how can researchers and indigenous communities convince the media to pay attention to missing indigenous peoples? And how can they convince the authorities to investigate these cases?

Scarcity of reliable data

The movement of missing and murdered Indigenous women began in Canada with the first official rally in 2015. MMIW is a loose coalition of groups across Canada and the United States that seeks to draw attention to the disproportionate violence suffered by women. indigenous women.

Since databases often list more missing Native American men than women, the MMIW movement is now generally referred to as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Movement (MMIP). As of 2021, May 5 is now recognized in the United States as Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Awareness Day.

After suffering massive historical trauma, including through forced resettlement and forced assimilation, many indigenous peoples do not trust the authorities. As a result, they do not report crimes that take place. Crimes that go unreported are usually not counted.

Jurisdictional authority issues further complicate the problem of poor data. Even if an Indigenous family decides to report a missing loved one, does it report it to federal, state, tribal or local authorities? Since tribal communities are often treated as sovereign nations, state or local authorities may not take action in this case. However, tribal authorities may not have the resources to investigate a missing person. And, since the missing person is usually not located somewhere on the reservation, tribal authorities may not have the legal authority to conduct an off-reserve investigation or to arrest non-tribal individuals.

Finally, even if a missing person report reaches a law enforcement agency that can deal with the case, if the missing person is a child, law enforcement officials can use their discretion to declare the missing person. person running away. If a child is officially classified as a runaway, there is no amber alert and generally no media coverage. The crucial window of time to locate the victim immediately after the crime is often lost.

Historical and contemporary contempt

Missing persons cases involving people of color in the United States are less likely to be resolved than cases involving white victims.

US attorneys have refused to prosecute two-thirds of the cases of sexual abuse and related cases in the Indian country referred to them between 2005 and 2009. This was in part due to jurisdictional disagreements between the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and perhaps the difficulty of obtaining evidence in violent cases. criminal cases as well as a perceived lack of victim credibility due to the interracial nature of many crimes. The fact that many crimes in Indigenous communities are not even investigated makes this ratio even more striking.

I believe there are many factors, both historical and current, that explain the lack of attention paid by police and media to missing indigenous peoples.

Historically, Indigenous peoples, like many people of color, were not viewed as fully human by white colonizers. Tribal people were viewed as animals and pagans, and indigenous women were, and still are, viewed as sexually libertine.

This feeling of superiority over another race led the colonizers to want to kill indigenous peoples, force them into slavery, remove them from desired lands, and later place their children in boarding schools where they were stripped of their language and language. their culture and sometimes died.

In an 1886 speech, Theodore Roosevelt, who was to become President of the United States, said: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I think nine out of ten are. “This historic dehumanization of Indigenous peoples is still evident today in the violence against Indigenous peoples.

Native Americans, male or female, are more than twice as likely to be victims of violent crime as the general population. Native Americans aged 18 to 24 have the highest violent crime rate per capita of any racial or age group in the United States

The majority of violence suffered by Native Americans is committed by a person of another race. This rate of interracial violence is much higher for Native Americans (70%) than for white (38%) or black (30%) victims. In addition, about 90% of Native American rape victims have abusers of another race, usually white.

According to CDC data, Native Americans are also more likely to be killed by American police than any other ethnic group – and twice as much as white Americans.

Home Secretary Deb Haaland created a Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs in April 2021. Drew Angerer / Getty Images Search for justice

Grassroots indigenous efforts, particularly over the past five or six years, are beginning to bring national attention to the issues of crime and violence that affect indigenous peoples.

In 2019, the Trump administration formed the Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives Task Force, which became Operation Lady Justice. In April 2021, Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo de Laguna, established a Missing and Murdered Persons Unit within the Office of Indian Affairs to enhance collaborative efforts among agencies responsible for the law enforcement. Previously, as a representative for New Mexico, she sponsored the Non-Invisible Law in 2019 to improve intergovernmental coordination and consult with tribes to establish best practices to reduce the number of missing Indigenous people.

And in October 2021, President Joe Biden proclaimed October 11 as the Day of the Indigenous Peoples, a day to recognize the atrocities of the colonizers while recognizing the continuing contributions of Indigenous peoples.

As thousands of unresolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans await justice, there may now be an understanding and commitment to address this ongoing tragedy.

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