Native Americans Most Likely To Die From Police Shootings, Families Who Lost Loved Ones Weigh In
Native American people are killed in police encounters more than any other ethnic group, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. But their voices are rarely heard regarding police brutality.
Jonathon Tubby was a 26-year-old Oneida man killed by Green Bay police following a traffic stop in October of 2018. His auntie, Sue Doxtator, tells his story nearly three years later.
“Oh wow. It’s been a long time,” she says as she prepared to recount what happened.
Tubby was pulled over for running a stop sign in downtown Green Bay. Officers discovered he had a warrant for failure to report to serve a drunk driving sentence. So, he was arrested and taken to the Brown County Jail.
Doxtator says Tubby was dead nearly two hours after his encounter with police.
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Green Bay police did not have body cameras at the time. So, the only video footage to reference came from the police car Tubby was in. Doxtator says things escalated when officers suspected Tubby had a weapon and attempted to get him out of the car when it arrived in the sally port outside of the jail.
“There were multiple jurisdictions and teams in the sally port were called in as they heard whatever they heard over the radio,” she says.
In an effort to get Tubby out of the car, Doxtator says police shot out the rear window and used pepper spray. Once outside the vehicle, Doxtator says Tubby was shot with a non-lethal beanbag round that knocked him to the ground.
“He jumped up and he ran. The video that we have ends as soon as Jonathon jumped out of the back of the car; everything went black because there is no video after that. We did hear the canine and then we heard the shots," she says.
Green Bay Police Officer Erik O’Brien fired eight shots from his gun, five of them hit Tubby — O’Brien was not charged. No weapon was found on Tubby.
Recently, a federal judge dismissed the family’s lawsuit against Green Bay Police and Brown County officials. The family has said they plan to appeal.
Sarah Wunderlich, another of Tubby’s aunties, says it’s disheartening to still have so many unanswered questions in his case. She says it’s equally disheartening that cases of Native people being killed by police aren’t getting much attention.
“Our statistics are the highest in the nation, but it goes unnoticed because people don't talk about us,” says Wunderlich.
She adds that it’s not just Native people being murdered by police, other issues include missing murdered and Indigenous women and the fight to protect clean water. Wunderlich says their family wants to see a reformed police system that includes better training, accountability and justice.
U.S. Census data from 2019 shows that Native Americans make up 0.9% of the population. Looking at the CDC’s fatal injury data on firearm deaths between 2009 and 2019 from legal intervention, meaning injuries inflicted by police, Native people were 2.2 times more likely to be killed by police than white people and 1.2 times more likely than Black people.
Matthew Harvey has a Ph.D in economics from the University of South Carolina and studies police violence. He says he didn’t know the extent to which Native people are killed by police until he did his own research. It involved looking at the Ninth Federal Reserve District, which includes northwestern Wisconsin.
“In that district, Native Americans are dying at a much higher rate than whites or other individuals compared to the percent of the population they are,” he says.
Harvey says these numbers could have changed since 2017, which is when his data stops, but he says what he found shocked him. “Native American females are 38 times as likely to die at the hands of police relative to their white counterparts, where Native American males are 14 times as likely. Both of the statistics are terrible, but the fact that it’s such a stark contrast for Native American women is a bit surprising to me,” he says.
But the numbers don’t surprise Gabriel Black Elk, who is Lakota and an activist with Native Lives Matter. The group travels the country supporting families affected by police violence, including here in Wisconsin.
“You know, Native people are murdered by the police. Native people are swept under the rug. The stories, what’s going on are swept under the rug,” he says.
Black Elk's brother, Paul Castaway, was killed by Denver Police in 2015, another reason he’s in the streets protesting for justice. He says the Native Lives Matter movement will keep saying the names of those we’ve lost.