Dec 17, 2014 - The I Can’t Breathe Movement by Dana Lonehill

Being shot and killed by police is nothing new to people with darker skin. Maybe some people think it is because of the recent civil rights movement dubbed I Can’t Breathe, in honor of the many killed by police and justified. Natives, Blacks, and other minority groups alike all know this story. They make up most of the prison system to this day and have never been under represented in anything to do with acts of genocide. Police brutality and militarization of police are something that date back slave days and days of putting Indians on a reservation.

In researching and preparing to write this, I asked many people their opinions or for quotes. I found many. I could and should post them here, but instead in the simplest terms, I will just throw it down like this. This country was founded on brutality and racism, resulting in genocide. This country was never about apple pie and baseball.

And all the muddy, messed up past is not recorded in the history books. Sure they talk about slavery and praise Lincoln for “freeing the slaves” but do the schoolbooks include Lincoln signing the death sentences of 264 Dakota prisoners? Or the mass hanging of 38 of those prisoners in what is now the largets mass execution in America? The history books will tell you what they want you to think, like you will remember or care, but they won’t tell you the truth.

Violence in the form of brutality and death is nothing new in this country. It has been happening for hundred of years, it is the foundation of this country. If we care so much we would be protesting and signing petitions for the way us Natives are depicted in the Declaration of Independence.

Every treaty ever made with any Indian tribe here was broken, we were put on reservations, which was the end of the way of life for some of us nomadic tribes. Black people were shipped crowded in horrible conditions and stripped of their culture and made to be slaves, Japanese people were put in huge concentration camps during World War 2 “for their own protection” and people “south of the border” were banned from crossing over as they have for hundreds of years and are now looked down on and being hated on. There were no borders before this was good ol’ America.

The history of the United States is nothing to be proud of. What we see other countries do to their people, we look down on such things as ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide and torture, this country has never stopped doing. Let me go back, then move forward. From my Lakota perspective.

Lakota leaders Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were killed by Indian police and military.

Crazy Horse was stabbed in the back with a bayonet. He died on September 5, 1877. It is said he was surrendering, it is said he wanted to make peace, and it is said he was starving as were his people. In talking with people, the facts of how Crazy Horse are muddled, the military even tried to say he threw himself in order to push the bayonet in in order to die rather than be locked up. The only thing we know for sure is that Crazy Horse approached those at Fort Robinson, Nebraska to settle things and talk to them like a man. As soon as he was there, he was treated like an animal. And he knew who he was and how he should be treated, he didn’t go there to be locked up. Whether a soldier killed Crazy Horse, or whether it was Little Big Man, those at Fort Robinson knew he wasn’t leaving alive when he went there. There was an intentional plot to kill him from the beginning on order to divide and conquer the people, to maintain control of the reservation from the beginning. Maybe it wasn’t the police, but it was a soldier acting in police capacity. My cousin Mark Tilsen told me, “If it was a crime scene nowadays they’d say “killed by bayonet while resisting arrest”

Chief Sitting Bull was also killed by police. He was shot and killed on December 15, 1890 when 43 Indian police went to his cabin to arrest him, one wonders why 43 were sent if their intent was not to kill him. And when I mention this, people always want to say “But they were Indian police” Or they want to say, well that is not how it would be today. Except it is. History will tell you he was killed for the same reason as those at Wounded Knee. Because of the Ghost Dance. Elders will tell you a different story, they were all killed as revenge for defeating the United States at Greasy Grass, or as the history books say Little Big Horn. Just like history will tell you that Little Big Horn was a massacre but Wounded Knee was a battle, Except, the 7th Cavalry were armed at both locations.

Police brutality still happens, cover ups still happen, and they will continue. On November 8, 2014 a Lakota lady by the name of Joy Sherman was shot by a police officer in a hotel in Mitchell South Dakota, I waited for the report to be made public. Why was she shot and killed?

Apparently she was “armed” and threatening suicide. The police showed up and killed her. I questioned how this can happen. I questioned the weapon she had. I was batted back and forth between the Attorney General’s office and the Mitchell police dept. My question was about her gun. I received the report of the OIS, Officer Involved Shooting, but I wanted the report of the “gun theft” for the stolen handgun they said she had.

At first the AG office told me the Mitchell police dept. could not give me that report because it was not available since it was related to the OIS. How then, is the stolen gun report not public, yet the shooting is, not only the shooting but the criminal history of the victim. I talked to the police department, they informed me, that the gun theft was reported was over the phone. They had no idea the gun was stolen but she told the cops she stole it from a house. They confirmed it and the report was turned over to the state for the third party investigation. They told me that they thought that report would be made public soon. So I waited over the weekend and emailed back and was told “I just want to clarify that there was not a separate stolen gun report. The stolen gun was discovered as part of the DCI investigation into the officer involved shooting. The gun owner did not report it was stolen, but our agents contacted the individual as part of the investigation. This all remains as part of the DCI investigative report, which is not public under South Dakota law.”

So into reading the original media reports more about the shooting, it says she aimed the gun at the officers. in the state report there is only one officer and no witnesses. There was two negotiators there but they did not see anything as they were no where near her but they were near enough to hear the gunshots.

The only one who saw anything was the officer who killed her from 7 feet away when he fired three bullets into her.

Joy Sherman was 52 years old when she died alone in that hotel room. She was distraught and wanted to end her life. Her criminal record of misdemeanors and addiction past is in print on the OIS report to show the world what a bad person she was in this lifetime. All we know is she was hurt enough to want to kill herself, but no matter what they have in print about her, she never killed anyone like the officer who killed her.

The I Can’t Breathe movement may be brand new, but the history of those in power and sworn to protect and serve do not protect and serve us brown people. As this goes to press, the Rapid City Police Department in Rapid City, South Dakota did not grant a permit for a rally against police brutality.

They don’t want it to get too violent, because only they are justified and allowed to be violent.

It has to change. We can’t breathe.

Last Real Indians