Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Police State - Standing Rock Edition

I am pro law enforcement.

I can't help it. I blame it on my job. I work in Dixie State University's Computer Crime Lab where day in and day out I analyze digital devices like phones and computers and write forensic reports for investigators from rural county sheriff's to the FBI; from SLC homicide to the Secret Service. I've done phones for the BIA, the military, the DOJ, the DEA, the SBI, homeland security, airport security... And I love assisting these investigators. I love it so much, that I work overtime. I volunteer my time on holiday's and weekends. When I am told, "Can you rush this? We have a hearing on this on Monday. We'll overnight it to you!" -- and I am examining the phone of a suspect in an officer involved homicide -- how can I say, "Sorry, I have next week off. You'll just need to wing it."

I am also an instructor in DSU's criminal justice department. Like it or not, I think about criminal justice a lot. I think about it when I travel overseas.  I meet with law enforcement agents from around the world. We talk and compare.

The United States does not have a national police force. We have jurisdictions over geographical areas and a myriad of different agencies with different missions. Clearly defined jurisdictions and missions work for the most part, except when it doesn't. And it has never worked on reservations.

Reservations are jurisdictions on crack. Tribal lands are sovereign so state police have no jurisdiction there. Unless an agreement is made, county sheriff offices have no jurisdiction there. Because reservations don't pay state taxes,  sheriff offices have little interest or motivation to help.

To make matters more difficult,  reservation jurisdiction isn't about geographical area - it's about people. Tribal and BIA police have jurisdiction over the the members of the reservation's specific tribe. So if a enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa is living on the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux reservation, the tribal police have no jurisdiction over her. If a white guy and a Sioux guy get into a fight, the tribal courts can only deal with the Sioux guy.

Remember when Trump said that a hispanic judge with Mexican heritage couldn't be non-biased in his university fraud case? American's still believe Native American law enforcement is inherently biased and therefore cannot be trusted to enforce law to all people in a geographical area. #TrumpsAmerica

Let me give you an anecdotal example. When I was living on the Fort Peck Reservation, I lived out in the country. It was a housing development with three houses. The middle house was a party house and change occupancy every two to three months. The house on the other side was home to a family. The father was Assiniboine. The mother Turtle Mountain Chippewa. She told me this story.

"One night in the middle of winter, I came home to find my back door open and my new washer and
dryer missing. I could clearly see the tracks in the snow where the washer and dryer and been dragged from my house to the neighbor's. I called the tribal police. They came out, but when they found out I'm Chippewa, they told me that they couldn't take my statement. They suggested I call the BIA police. The BIA police came and took my statement, but told me they couldn't do anything about it as I am not enrolled here. They suggested I call the sheriff. I called the sheriff, but they told me they couldn't spare anyone to come out to the reservation."

The Federal government is aware of this problem. That's why they assign FBI agents over the reservation. Reservations are federal not state. The problem is, FBI agents
are trained to only take on a select few cases. These cases are generally high profile with a preponderance of evidence already established. Agents therefore are not motivated to work reservation crime. Crime happens, people suffer. The Oceti Sakowin camp has developed a traditional model for grassroots law enforcement.

The governor or North Dakota recently indicated that the state will no longer be providing services to the Oceti Sakowin camp. This is nothing new to the Standing Rock Sioux, or any other tribe that joins their cause. They've gone without state help all this time, and judging how the State of North Dakota has treated the camp up to this point, they'll be better off without North Dakota's emergency services.

The Oceti Sakowin camp is on federal land. The dispute over the land is between a federal level sovereign nation and the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency. It is unfortunate that Morton County and the State of North Dakota feel it their responsibility to step in. They need to take a cue from the USACE and take a step back.

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