Chairman Terry Rambler
San Carlos Apache Tribe
Now that George Floyd has been laid to rest, America must heed his call from heaven. His cry is our cry. We can’t breathe anymore.
In Apache, we say ‘Ndąą Diłhił’í bi’idąą da’ilįį’ (Black Lives Matter.) When one unarmed black person is killed, it affects us all, even out here on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. After all, we Apaches are people of color. All people of color are at risk – red, black, brown or yellow We are at risk and live in fear of what happened to Mr. Floyd because it can happen just as easily to any one of us.
There is an open, gaping wound in America; one that we as tribal members have known all too well. The conquest of tribes and slavery have one thing in common—a 400-year old fiction that people of color are lesser human beings, a belief that has justified the slaughter of millions, a belief that though unspoken largely persists to this day in certain racist behaviors that cut us down every day.
And then there is the behavior of the police when they come into contact with us—because of the color of our skin—we must be armed. That is a reaction that is simply not born out of facts.
Some say that police should be held accountable for excessive force. Black Americans are 2.5 to 5 times more likely than whites to be killed by police. In Minneapolis, it is 7 times greater. The reality is in fact that police and racially motivated killings have become “tragically, painfully, maddeningly normal,” as President Obama has said.
In Arizona, the same day Mr. Floyd died, a DPS trooper killed Dion Johnson. His crime? He was passed out in his car, which was partially blocking traffic.
Why he was killed is an all too familiar story.
1,023 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year. In Arizona, there have been 252 shootings since 2015. According to one study, for every one million Native Americans, an average of 2.9 died annually as a result of “legal intervention.” Over the past decades, the list of those getting killed in police custody is in the tens of thousands, a list almost as long as racially motivated killings.
This is America’s unfortunate, bloody history. All of us have to ask, ‘Why?’
Millions of people took to the streets to exercise the fundamental right of speech, to gather, and to protest the killing of Mr. Floyd. Some protested with an intensity not seen for some time.
Additionally, this time, the wound that we the people of color carry has been compounded by the epic impacts of an economic chasm between the haves and the have nots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The national economy is in shambles with over 36 million unemployed and 7.5 million small businesses at risk of permanent closure. People are scared. They are scared of the coronavirus. They are afraid for the economic well-being of themselves and their families. They are afraid that their voices and concerns are not being heard by government officials.
But overwhelmingly, people, and particularly the families of people of color, are terrified that their family members will not come home because they were killed by a violent, uncontrolled law enforcement officer.
There are roughly 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. The overwhelming number of those officers do their jobs lawfully and faithfully. The rogue cops who used excessive force and killed the George Floyds, Tamir Rices, Breonna Taylors, and Dion Johnsons of these United States represent a significant minority of the law-abiding law enforcement officers who steadfastly do their jobs.
What we ask for is that the ‘Blue Wall of Silence’ be dismantled and that criminal cops be held accountable in the justice system like any other criminal. We ask that police departments shun their initial reaction to protect ‘their own’ and instead examine and investigate each incident of police violence with an unbiased and objective analysis of whether a crime was committed and by whom. We demand that rogue cops be named and that independent investigators and attorneys general investigate and prosecute any allegation of a wrongful death.
No reasonable person condones looting or violence during the recent protests. The cause of justice for Mr. Floyd’s death gets lost in such chaos. The overwhelming majority of the people protesting are not looters or engaged in criminal activities. The vast majority of persons attending constitutionally protected gatherings were simply expressing a desire for justice—a justice that is seemingly harder and harder to find.
The governors in forty states have responded to legal gatherings with mandatory curfews, helicopters circling overhead, riot police, and the National Guard out in force. Arizona took it one step further by issuing a statewide curfew. This is a response that does not address our reality—the fear of being killed because of our skin color.
Curfews unconstitutionally silence the overwhelming majority of persons exercising their First Amendment rights to gather and protest irresponsible state and federal government actions. Too many governors and mayors failed to call for peace; they failed to meet with protesters and community activists; instead, theirs was an effort to silence our voices.
Our country needs healing, not a military response to protesters.
Governors and mayors alike need to work with their citizens and hear our cry. The 21st Century Policing Report of 2014 was a start, but nothing came of it largely because of politics. Ironically, while Mr. Floyd’s killers made their initial appearance in court, Senator Rand Paul was lecturing his fellow senators—some of whom are the descendants of slaves—about lynching, a lecture symptomatic of the failure of many Americans to understand the root cause of wounds in our history.
All rational citizens support legal law enforcement. Every day law enforcement officers put their lives on the line for public safety and the public good. However, we cannot tolerate the killings of unarmed citizens. We need to establish law and order that protects people of color.
We also need to hold police accountable when they have committed crimes against persons exercising their First Amendment rights to peacefully gather and express their grievances against federal and local governments. We need effective justice, not just for crimes committed by the police, but also for crimes committed by armed vigilantes hunting down a jogger solely because of his appearance and the color of his skin.
The police officers of Flint, Houston and Phoenix are led by chiefs of police that have respected protesters and their First Amendment rights. Some even took a knee out of respect and in solidarity. These police departments should emulate these chiefs of police. This is the standard of police conduct that should guide our country’s police departments.
What happened to Mr. Floyd will not be the last police killing. Sadly, there will be more George Floyds. America has to come together. What happened to Mr. Floyd has to stop.
The era of the knee on the neck of people of color must end.
The Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is a significant step forward, but the legislation provides way too much more money for law enforcement. Instead, we need a complete reconsideration of policing and laws like H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act.
Only when criminals, on either side of the protests, are held accountable will our nation advance toward a more perfect union.
Chairman Terry Rambler
San Carlos Apache Tribe