Many of the sticks in the tangle of jackstraws that is opinion about law and order are “hot.” That is, they are so emotional that they can hardly be addressed. A simple short article in the Great Falls Tribune yesterday triggered many comments so angry and intemperate that they didn’t make much sense unless one already knew what they were so angry about. (It also suggested that a lot of school kids have computer access.)
1. Emotional storm has become a strategy for many people: a way of evading law and order. Accused of anything by anyone, the accused immediately bursts into a storm of swearing and threatened violence, creating a scene that make businesses want them out of there at any cost. Threats of lawsuits, possible vandalism, stigmas of various sorts -- it all hits the fan. It works.
2. The biggest denial and blank spot about law and order is that it costs money. Quite apart from writing an ideal code of laws, enforcing them means paying people to acquire skills, risk their lives, expose themselves to abuse and high pressure -- and possibly even worse, like waiting through the long quiet spells when nothing is happening but catastrophe might explode at any moment. That drives many people to donuts. It did me. Very bad for blood pressure.
There is simply no money for training, no money for communication equipment that works over long distances, no money for vehicles that can stand up to gravel roads and even make cross-country chases, no money for gas for long patrols through a reservation fifty miles by fifty miles, partly in the mountains. Even assuming one catches an offender, there is no money for a safe jail where demented or drunk or juvenile or female or ailing inmates can be confined in a proper manner. No money to train jailers. (It doesn’t occur to most people that they NEED training!) Or dispatchers or cleaners or a cook or medical supervision.
3. Since most law enforcement has been brought to bear from the outside, whether through BIA officers or through the FBI, opposition and criticism is built in. Very little trust exists. The matter is not helped when the police are tribal. In that case money is even more short and the political interference can be outrageous. One of the most neglected aspects of law enforcement, as we have discovered in Iraq and evidently have forgotten since the good old hippie days, is that people cannot be governed unless they CONSENT. If people feel the governance is unjust or imposed from outside, even people who are normally law-abiding will be slow to cooperate.
4. In the Fifties, partly because of traumatized veterans who returned to find their families changed and their jobs gone, and partly (some say) because of legalized alcohol -- burglaries and street drunkenness increased beyond bearing. (Now the women began to drink and the FAS babies arrived, though no one knew that’s what they were yet.) The Town of Browning found a legal opinion that they were an “island of juridiction” within the reservation and therefore could go by state law. The businessmen of Browning, mostly but not all white, taxed themselves to create a city police force and appoint a city magistrate so they could control matters. They weren’t willing to pay much, but they did form an alternative. This lasted about ten years and was only partly effective, but it helped. Finally it was ruled unconstitutional and snuffed. The meetings about this were very angry indeed. The whole “islands of jurisdiction” question was inflamed and remains that way.
5. It’s not just a simple matter of what is state and what is federal. I achingly recall one of my students being assaulted one Indian Days by “aboriginals,” as they called in Canada, from a reserve up there. He was seriously damaged, one eye hanging on his cheek. The attackers were never even charged. No one here had any jurisdiction, no one where they lived had any jurisdiction. They would have had to be extradited but no one even knew where they had gone. With so many illegal immigrants around now, the chances of such situations are much increased. New categories arise all the time.
6. Today the tribe has awakened to the issue of sovereignty, which is more than a jurisdictional issue. The model has moved far away from the old client-dependency model, partly because the US wants to shed the burden of supervising and funding, through the “business corporation” model that governs the the Tribal Council today (and Hutterite colonies), towards the idea of an entirely separate and independent nation. This is only really possible if the reservation severs its monetary dependence, which it is not close to doing. The game of “chicken” that’s going on is to see how many people must die and suffer to force the tribe to give over their sovereignty. But the more the FBI and BIA withdraw, neglect, and delay their duty, the more the people crave sovereignty as their only safety. At the same time, the Tribal Council is not about to spend money to make things better for their supervisors at the BIA.
7. Alcoholism counselors are very much aware of “Games Alcoholics Play,” which is a book you might be able to find on the used book websites. The basic idea is that there are only three people involved really, three roles -- and they revolve around among the three people without ever being resolved. The three roles are: the offender, the persecutor, and the savior. Usually this plays out as the drunk, the spouse, and the law. The drunk offends, the law locks him up, the spouse comes to save him. Or the law accuses the spouse of “making” the drunk drink by being so persecutorial -- then the law gets to be the savior. Or maybe the drunk beats up the wife and the law officer suggests she provoked him. Or maybe the law officer responds to a call for help and both the drunk and the spouse turn on the officer. This is “gaming the system,” repeating and repeating in the way that is a technical definition of personal psychosis, but as a social psychosis.
8. In institutional terms, the Tribal Council does something, the BIA won’t allow it, the people take sides, and all action is brought to a halt. Or maybe the BIA makes a move and it’s the Council that blocks it, and then the people take sides. The pay-off that keeps this three-handed game going is that it is familiar, people know their parts, and it looks as though something is happening while successfully preventing change. On the national level, the corporations have succeeded in covertly starting and sustaining this game of triangles with the two political parties and the US people, so that this public triangle on all our front pages hides a deeper and more frightening triangle of international corporations, sold-out politicians of both parties, and the American people.
9. The assumption about reservations is a double one: that the practice of a separate, sequestered social order is made necessary because Indians are a people essentially different culturally. Therefore it is unjust to subject them to the same rules as everyone else. The other edge of the sword is that it was assumed that the passage of time would cause them to evolve to be like everyone else, and then the reservation -- like training wheels -- could be taken off the bike.
But no one wants to give up the status quo. People who find the existing system works to their advantage are not about to close it down. Even those who suffer only want to eliminate the small parts they don’t like -- not the whole system, which is too scary.
10. Deepest and most unacknowledged of all might be something one could call the “OJ factor.” When OJ was found innocent of murder, black people celebrated. But it wasn’t because they thought he was innocent. They just felt that their people, esp. their men, had been wrongly accused and convicted so many times that it was more important to beat the despised system than it was to preserve law and order, even at that level. It was “one for our side.” Nicole had become “the other side.” This level of separatism is unsustainable, as OJ has discovered. But it means that families protect their sons and daughters with secrecy and blaming. It is a wall that holds out the enemy, but traps the People. Now we’re back to the first item on the list: intense emotion.
PS: If you look at the GF Tribune comments on the Law & Order news story, be assured that "lscriver" is not me nor is it "Lorraine Scriver," Bob's fourth wife. Neither is it Bob's niece Laurel, who is outraged that people would think it was. In fact, it is Phil Scriver's daughter, Lynnette, playing "me,too" though she's never lived on the rez and is not at all related to the Browning Scrivers.