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Public Health New Mexico

Native Activist Talks Police Violence

Melissa Tso member of the Red Nation and the Party for Socialism and Liberation
Protestors at a Red Nation demonstration

Police violence against people of color has been at the forefront of national debate in recent months. And in New Mexico, a group advocating for indigenous concerns called the Red Nation has been active on this issue since the killing of James Boyd two years ago.

Jennifer Marley—one of their organizers from San Ildefonso Pueblo—sat down with KUNM to talk about why Native Americans have not been included in the mainstream conversation about police violence.  


MARLEY: It’s not just when we’re talking about police brutality. It’s literally everything. Some of the only representation we have is through these crazy pop cultural images. And Natives aren’t really talked about outside of a hyper-romanticized context or, you know, they’re people of the past. They used to exist.

So, in general, not just when speaking about police violence, Native people are quite literally erased from the mainstream. Colonization is a structure, not an event.

KUNM: So statistics show that Native Americans are the most likely ethnic group to be killed by police, right? Why do you think that is?

MARLEY: Really, in all reality, elimination is still the goal of the state, and you see that very clearly by the way Native bodies are policed in specifically urban spaces. Metropolitan areas were constructed for the settler. They’re settlements. And so when Native people are forced to leave the confines of the reservations—which are literally like the only places that are considered appropriate for Native people to exist—when they come into border towns they’re forced to receive excessive violence specifically at the hands of police.

It is law enforcement who upholds the intentions of the state. They serve the state. They serve the violent constructions of the U.S. first and foremost.

KUNM: The awareness of problems with law enforcement is really high right now, and it’s increased in the U.S. in the last couple of years. But do you feel like it’s been on your radar for a lot longer than that?

MARLEY: I mean, always. Since 1492. The epidemic of police violence has been constant, I know not just in the Native community. These are structures that have been in place, but they’ve been normalized.

I feel like only the resistance movements that are forming as of late have brought attention to these things at all. People are refusing to tolerate it.

KUNM: With the Black Lives Matter movement being so prominent right now, do you feel like there’s space to mobilize and express your concerns?

MARLEY: First of all, I’m just going to say, we don’t see ourselves as being apart from the Black community. We’re always going to stand in solidarity with our Black relatives. We have Black Natives who organize in the Red Nation. This is a struggle that both communities have been in for the past 500-plus years.

So you do hear some rhetoric about it being almost like a competition of oppression. But the winner of being most oppressed is still a loser.

KUNM: What do you think needs to change for minority communities to feel safe around law enforcement?

MARLEY: To be honest, I don’t think there’s any kind of reform that can be made at this point. I really think we need to see an end to the police institution as we know it and not just the police, but the various institutions that uphold capitalist white supremacy, not just in the U.S. or the Western hemisphere but worldwide. Because the indigenous struggle is an international struggle. 


KUNM hosted a Call In Show about race and police focused on the African-American perspective on Thursday, July 14. 

KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Con Alma Health Foundation and McCune Charitable Foundation.


Related Links

Who Are Police Killing?Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice

Who's most likely to be killed by police?CNN

Native Americans Get Shot By Cops At An Astonishing RateMother Jones

People killed by police in the U.S.The Guardian

Fatal ForceThe Washington Post

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