Friday, July 27, 2007

Lawless Zones

Do you like raping and thieving but hate the hassle of law enforcement? Sure, we all do.

Do you wish you could find a place to rape women in peace and quiet? Who doesn't?

Well, good news, now there's a place for people like you: Native American reservations!

NPR's All Things Considered is doing a thorough and therefore thoroughly horrifying series of stories on crime on Indian lands, and it turns out it's out of control. For example, about a third of Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes.

Recently, Australia faced up to the intensity and ubiquity of alcoholism, domestic abuse, and domestic sexual abuse on aboriginal lands. The culprits there seem to be the despair and self-destructive habits that come from generations of dispossession and systematic injustice. Those problems also face Native Americans, but the high crime on reservations isn't just another case of poor people punishing themselves for being poor. Nope, they're being punished by a government system that, if it isn't deliberately racist now, was racist when it was set up decades ago and hasn't changed much since.

Across America, tribal officers are generally barred by law from prosecuting crimes by non-Indians, even when the occur on tribal lands. Tribal courts are usually prevented from trying such cases and even from trying serious cases (including murder and rape) involving only Indians. That means that tribal officers--even if they know exactly who did it--can't arrest a non-Indian who raped a fourteen-year-old girl. They have to send a report to the US Attorney and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and hope that they'll take care of it. And the US Attorney's office, it turns out, mostly doesn't bother. It's not drug smuggling and it's not terrorism, so it's not worth prosecuting.

This is repellent. It should be fixed.

The silver lining, though, is that it can be fixed quite easily. Tribal officers and courts should be given jurisdiction over all crimes committed on their lands. All defendants should have the right to appeal to US District courts but only after they've been tried by the competent authorities in the place where they committed the crime. And only if their appeal meets the same standards that any other appeal would have to meet.

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