"The Police Killings No One Is Talking About": Native Americans Most Likely to be Killed by Cops

October 19, 2016


Stephanie Woodard

award-winning journalist who covers human rights and culture with an emphasis on Native Americans.

James Rideout

uncle of Jacqueline Salyers, a 32-year-old pregnant mother and member of the Puyallup Tribe who was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, on January 28, 2016.

A new investigation by In These Times explodes myths about who is most likely to die at the hands of police by revealing that, compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, Native Americans were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. It also found that cases of African-American police deaths tend to dominate headlines, while killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media. We speak with reporter Stephanie Woodard, who wrote the article, "The Police Killings No One Is Talking About," and with James Rideout, the uncle of Jacqueline Salyers, a 32-year-old pregnant mother and member of the Puyallup Tribe who was killed by police earlier this year in Tacoma, Washington.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We end today’s show looking at a new investigation by In These Times magazine that explodes myths about who’s most likely to die at the hands of police. The article is titled "The Police Killings No One Is Talking About." It explains, quote, "When compared to their percentage of the U.S. population, [Native Americans] were more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African Americans. ... [A]nalysis of CDC data from 1999 to 2014 shows ... Native Americans are 3.1 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans."

The investigation also found that cases of African-American deaths at the hands of police tend to dominate headlines, while killings of Native people go almost entirely unreported by mainstream U.S. media. One case that received almost no national coverage was the police killing of Jacqueline Salyers, a 32-year-old pregnant mother and member of the Puyallup Tribe. She was killed by police in Tacoma, Washington, January 28th, 2016. Salyers was at the wheel of a parked car when police spotted her partner, Kenneth Wright, who had multiple outstanding warrants, in the passenger seat. Police shot and killed Salyers, while Wright escaped. The shooting was ruled justified based on an officer’s testimony that Salyers had attempted to run him down with the car. But family members dispute that account. Their Justice for Jackie group is also supporting an initiative to change Washington law to improve police accountability.

For more, we’re joined by reporter Stephanie Woodard, who wrote the In These Times story, "The Police Killings No One Is Talking About." And with us, Jacqueline Salyers’s uncle, James Rideout.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! So, tell us the story of Jacqueline. We’ll begin there, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE WOODARD: Yeah, so, Jackie was in a parked car. There were warrants outstanding for her partner. There’s very little information about what happened that night, other than what the police are telling us. Tacoma police did not at that time use dash or body cams. There was a police surveillance camera on the street, which apparently malfunctioned from just before to just after the shooting. And there were some security cameras on a house nearby, both front and back of the house, that might have recorded useful information; however, when the police took them as part of their investigation, they apparently broke them and the hard drives to which they were connected. So we have, very, very little information about what went on that night, other than what the officers have told us. The family has gotten underway its own investigation and is talking to additional people to see if there’s any more information available.

What seems to have happened is that the car seems to have started up at a very, very slow speed, because it coasted to a stop just a few feet later, after she was shot. She was then dragged out of the car, onto the sidewalk, dragged into a police car, driven around the corner, and then dragged back out onto the pavement, where she received chest compressions. She was—she may well have been dead at this point. So, there was a lot of concern among family members that she had been—her body had been disrespected, sort of manhandled, even while she had been—while she had been shot.

It was—it later turned out—her body was returned to the family and buried, and then it turned out that she had actually been pregnant at the time. And that was additionally upsetting to the family, because they would have had a different sort of traditional ritual for the child, in addition to the mother, had they known that the child existed. It was—when I got out to Tacoma to talk to family members and attend a family meeting and interact with them in various ways, it was clear that, like any family that’s gone through this, it was incredibly traumatic.

AMY GOODMAN: James Rideout, you have—you are a part of the Justice for Jackie group. You’ve even traveled to Washington. Can you talk about who Jackie was and what you believe happened and what you’re demanding now?

JAMES RIDEOUT: Jacqueline Salyers is a member of the Puyallup Tribe—I’m just correcting your pronunciation.

AMY GOODMAN: Sorry. You said Puyallup?

JAMES RIDEOUT: She’s a member of the tribe for—Puyallup Tribe, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Puyallup.

JAMES RIDEOUT: And she’s been a member of the tribe for 32 years. Jacqueline Salyers was a very, very loving, caring, considerate person that didn’t deserve to die. And we have to find alternatives to speak for her, because in that spirit world, you know, there’s nobody to speak for her but her family. And so, we seek through circumstances of this case of how do we get something done, especially when there’s no media coverage.

The first thing KOMO 4 News said to me is that this killing is going to be justified. And I didn’t quite understand all of these things that go along with these types of circumstances. But as several months went by, since January 28th, we’ve discovered so many multiples of things that are unjust in society and how things work and how they operate. And it’s a really disgusting circumstance when your loved one is killed by the laws of the law enforcement and how protected they are by the unions. And it’s very difficult. But today, we have a greater opportunity to fight the injustices, because we have a federal government and our tribe, that is taking a position in this whole policing, in how they police cities and counties and our tribes and the agencies. If it was for another family member or someone that didn’t have those types of resources, it is extremely difficult.

And we found that we had got all victims that we can accumulate, which was pretty easy to do because they’re all fallen victim of police brutality. That’s what started Community for Good Policing here at our tribe. And so, our tribe today provides hope to this initiative, I-873. I-873 is an initiative that we’re looking to change the laws. Here in the state of Washington, they have a law that’s called malice and good faith. And under this law—and this is the only state in the United States that has this law, that no officer can ever be prosecuted for any of their actions. So, when KOMO 4 News had explained to me that, you know, this is going to be justified, that’s what it meant. And, you know, upon learning these things, our tribe took a position they’re supporting the initiative, and we’re looking forward to get 250,000 signatures here in Washington state. Tomorrow, we go to the state Capitol at 1:00 for an initiative rally, for, you know, a big push.

But it’s extremely difficult when we speak to city councilmembers, the mayor, even Governor Inslee here in the state about the circumstances that are happening. But because it’s an election year, it’s tough for them to, you know, gather that type of support when they’re trying to position themselves in their own communities. And it’s extremely even more tough when the unions have a precedent-setting circumstance over—over the City Council, the mayor and also media itself. And it’s extremely hard to get any type of coverage whatsoever. It’s like they provoke you to be violent. And we don’t want to be violent. We’ve been a peaceful group, and we’re going to continue to be a peaceful group throughout this entire investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: In August, Tacoma’s Deadly Force Review Board determined the police shooting of Jackie Salyers on January 28th was justified. This is Jackie’s cousin Chester Earl speaking with Tacoma’s KOMO News in response to the findings.

CHESTER EARL: There’s no way we’ll ever accept that investigation. We just won’t. There’s no way we can, when you have a Tacoma officer being investigated by the Tacoma police, being decided by the Pierce County prosecutor—they all work together—and then TPD and the union, which they work—the officers work for, investigating themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: So, I want to ask Stephanie Woodard, if you can put this in a broader context, the police killings of Native Americans, what you have found?

STEPHANIE WOODARD: Yes. Over the course of this investigation, we looked at two really important studies that had come out. So, in addition to finding as many as we could of the individuals who had been killed under questionable circumstances and covering their stories in the article, we looked at information that Mike Males at the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice brought out, where he showed that Native Americans were the most likely to be killed, that they were two of the top three groups, and three of the top five groups, when you divide the population by age. And that’s in proportion to their percentage of the population.

Then we looked at another study that was very interesting that came out from Claremont Graduate University, which quantified—it corroborated Mike Males’s findings, but then it actually quantified the coverage in the top 10 U.S. papers by circulation. And it found that police brutality, as an entire subject matter, was covered during this 15-month period, the recent 15-month period they looked at—in hundreds of articles, hundreds of thousands of words were covered, but, of those, just a handful of articles and a couple thousand words were used in reference to Native—Native victims. And actually, of all of the victims that were shot, only two actually were ever mentioned in these top newspapers. So, there really is a kind of media blackout, a kind of—it’s not a blackout, it’s a media blind spot. And I think that probably what you saw, when you were covering the Dakota Access pipeline, was that all of a sudden there, people were very surprised that all of these people came out from behind the blind spot and had a very important—

AMY GOODMAN: How important is it for tribal government to get involved in these issues?

STEPHANIE WOODARD: It’s extremely important. It’s—the involvement of tribe is a very important part of this. And one of the—the activist, actually, who wrote the legislative initiative that Jimm mentioned, which is intended to remove this kind of easy out for officers in—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s initiative I-873.

STEPHANIE WOODARD: Yes, exactly. Lisa Hayes, who wrote it, said that she thought that the involvement of the Puyallup Tribe is extremely important, because tribes are actually sovereign governments. They have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. They have relationships, direct relationships, with other governments, like states and counties and so on. So, their involvement gives a great deal of weight to this. And they can talk to other tribes and say, you know, "Do you want to get behind this? Do you want to talk to your members about this?" So, it’s a big deal.

AMY GOODMAN: James Rideout, you also went to the Justice Department and to Washington calling for an independent investigation. In this last minute we have left, what kind of response have you gotten?

JAMES RIDEOUT: The response that we got from the Department of Justice is that they have too much oversight, and they couldn’t cover their fiduciary responsibility to the tribes. And one of our councilmembers had stated to them that there’s 257 police stations that, you know, they have a responsibility to. And there still was no investigation. It’s very disrupting that, you know, they don’t do their part and do their job that they’re obligated to do, you know? But it doesn’t surprise me. As we learned in this case, it’s like, you know, we’d want multiple things being done, but it just doesn’t happen for indigenous people, you know? It’s like asking them to free Leonard Peltier or, you know, asking them to stop the pipeline immediately. These things just don’t happen. They make it so difficult for indigenous people, you know, to be functionable and equal justice. And, you know, the injustices that—

AMY GOODMAN: James Rideout, we’re going to have to leave it there, as the show ends, but we’re going to do Part 2, and we’re going to post it online at James Rideout, uncle of Jacqueline Salyers. Stephanie Woodard, we’ll link to your piece in In These Times, a major investigation, "The Police Killings No One Is Talking About."

That does it for our show. We’ll be broadcasting from 8:00 Eastern [Daylight] Time to 11:30 tonight, covering the last presidential debate, and a two-hour special tomorrow, "Expanding the Debate."

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