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Adamson: What's going on in violent crimes against Indians?

Conservative radio drug rehabber Rush Limbaugh lost a national TV job last football season for making bar-guy wisecracks about black football quarterback Donovan McNabb.

But here is what he said about Indians years before racially insulting some 37 million-plus black Americans:

"The American Indians were meaner to themselves than anybody was ever mean to them ? The people were savages ? they damn well were ? These people were out destroying timber ? They were out there conquering and killing each other ? Scalping people."

How is it that Limbaugh did not lose his audience for this surpassingly vicious, purblind, cartoonish little history tract? Is it just that blacks are too numerous to attack frontally? Is it the power and money behind professional sports? Or is it okay to hate Indians?

Across the board, Indians are victims of violence far more often than any other race. According to Department of Justice findings:

*Indian violence victimization rates in urban, suburban and rural settings alike are quite high: 207 victims per 1,000 Indians for urban crime compared with 75 for blacks and 63 for whites; 138 for suburban crime compared with 52 for blacks and 48 for whites; and for rural violent crime victimization, 89 for Indians compared with 37 for whites and 33 for blacks.

*Indians experience a per capita violence rate more than double that of all other races, or more than 120 per 1,000 compared with the all-races rate of 50-plus per thousand. The next-highest rate for other population groups is among blacks, about 60.

*The annual violent victimizations rate among Indians is two-and-a-half times the national rate, or 124 compared with the all-races figure of 50.

*Rates of violence are higher among Indians than among others across every age group.

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In view of such carefully researched findings, we have to ask - What's going on?

Blacks have been standing up and strengthening themselves en masse, in major ways, since at least the 1880s. Blacks of that time - especially individual black men who began to prosper - faced lynchings, burnings and other highly visible acts of often-documented mob savagery. The visibility, the documentation, all came around again in the fullness of time to inspire shame in the perpetrating race and reckoning action in the victimized one.

By contrast, American Indians in general have been victimized in out-of-the-way places. Car trunks, roadsides, bar rooms, open fields, penitentiaries - all the modern surrogates for the prairie draws and desert washes of old, where vigilante justice could be done with no one the wiser.

But this still goes on, as in the not infrequent kind of tragedy that befell a Cree man in Saskatchewan province. Mr. Darrell Night got himself picked up by police on a January night, a bitter cold night such as only the far north really knows. He was the worse for drink and domestic quarreling, and the local drunk tank seemed pretty good to him. By the time he'd been left for dead in an open field and lived to tell about it, proofs had been enacted that would establish a pattern of events in a court of law - a pattern of police abuse played out time and again in this single Canadian province. As any Indian in certain geographical settings knows, the pattern recurs in many American cities and reservation border towns as well.

It still recurs, 32 years after Indian country got its call to action when white policemen in Gordon, Neb., stuffed Raymond Yellow Thunder in the trunk of a car. He was modest enough, inoffensive, a bit of a drinker, and he died in the trunk of that car without any gesture to human dignity - that would come later, when Indian country realized that he stood for so many of our own, before and after.

In 1972, we stood up for human dignity and the most basic human rights. In 2003, Amnesty International began hearings on human rights violations and racial profiling in Indian country. Among those testifying at the Amnesty hearings in September was Lou Spencer from the Euchre and Creek nations. Lou spoke about that night in October 2001 when she last saw her 26-year-old stepson, Shane Spencer, alive. She told how he was handcuffed and loaded into the paddy wagon, 10:30 at night, right outside her house and only two blocks from the jail. Lou said, "This is hard because I still have anger in me. He could not walk. He was drug, police were on both sides, but he was being drug - just like a dog.

"Where was he at between 11 p.m. and 1:18 a.m.? These unknowns are what trouble our family. They said racial slurs I won't repeat - but they did say, another dead Indian.

"It's all on their own surveillance tape so they cannot lie about the jokes they made as my son lay lifeless on the floor, dead upon arrival at the jail at 1:18 a.m."

But at least someone was watching: visibility. Someone was making a record: documentation. Someone besides Rush Limbaugh was spreading the word that someone else bore witness. And now, we all can.

Rebecca Adamson is the president of First Nations Development Institute and a columnist for Indian Country Today.