Criminal Justice

Law Enforcement Gap on Tribal Lands

Native American women living on reservations are more than twice as likely to be raped as other women in the United States. One reason why is a quirk in the law governing Indian reservations that makes it impossible for tribal authorities to prosecute whites who commit crimes on their own lands.

Another is outside authorities’ lack of interest in bringing perpetrators to justice, perhaps attributable at least in part to racism, reports National Public Radio. Asked what happens when he reports crimes committed by whites on Native American tribal land to the local U.S. attorney for prosecution, Chickasaw Police Chief Jason O’Neal says he doesn’t know. “I really couldn’t tell you. I don’t think I’ve ever been called back on one of them.”

Not all crimes are major; if O’Neal gets a call about a carton of cigarettes stolen within his territory, he could arrest the perpetrator, if he is a Native American. If the bad guy is white, however, the crime would have to be referred to the U.S. attorney. Another option is for tribal police to form partnerships with nearby municipal or county police forces, to work together on cases that interweave different jurisdictions. But several sheriffs say they don’t want to share the job with officers who don’t report to them, according to NPR.

The lack of enforcement helps make tribal communities a mecca for those who want to violate the law with impunity, says O’Neal. “Many of the criminals know Indian lands are almost a lawless community where they can do whatever they want.”

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