Opinions

Law enforcement must prevent race-based violence during racial reckoning, national transition

As demonstrated throughout history, and again in this time of national unrest, the threats to our safety and well-being are not equally shared. We call on all Alaska law enforcement agencies to proactively prepare to prevent, intervene and protect against racial aggression and violence during this racial reckoning and leading up to and following the national transition of power for the U.S. presidential inauguration on Jan. 20. Law enforcement must always be ready to protect Black, Indigenous, peoples of color (BIPOC) and identity intersections that include LGBTQIA2+, because our communities are more vulnerable and likely to be targeted in times of heightened racial tension.

Racism is not a political or a partisan issue. Racism is built into the fabric of our society – from the founding of this country to the daily interactions with our institutions, systems and each other. It represents a grave threat to the safety of this state and country. While work is ongoing to address racism and create racial equity, these times of division and polarization have triggered a heightened state of racism and racial violence. Unrecognized, unreported, unidentified and uninvestigated acts of violence and racism leave holes in data and reporting, making it too easy to dismiss by those who don’t experience it and are therefore ambivalent – or worse, those who want the racial divides to grow.

The events in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6 and then across the country, including potentially violent events underway or planned in Alaska, prove the need for law enforcement in Alaska to prepare preventative measures against racial violence and hate during this heightened tension. Anchorage, Ketchikan, Sitka, Fairbanks and Juneau have already seen examples of hate on display, from polling place intimidation on election day to groups espousing a false belief in white supremacy confronting citizens in communities and intimidating community members in stores, inciting fear on purpose.

As public servants, it is incumbent upon members of law enforcement to earn and protect the public trust. We acknowledge the truly difficult jobs they carry to keep our communities safe and appreciate their willingness to do the hard work of both repairing and strengthening relationships during an already strenuous and difficult year.

We hope that tensions do not break, but if they do, we want to make clear that our communities refuse to be subjected to violence, whether by other citizens inciting racial hatred or by law enforcement neglecting an obligation to protect our BIPOC communities. Too often, as evidenced last week, these groups are one and the same.

How can trust be built when it feels there is a lack of care for our very humanity? When BIPOC community members are neglected or maltreated by law enforcement, these issues are often unreported out of distrust. When they are reported, too often active investigation, intervention and justice are denied to BIPOC, especially BIPOC women and gender intersections. In the past few months alone, six Native people have died or gone missing in Fairbanks with little to no word from law enforcement to the community. Where is their justice?

During peaceful gatherings in support of Black Lives Matter, violence, threats of violence, intimidation and menacing behaviors caused participants to fear for their lives and the safety of all participating. These were common experiences for the BIPOC community, yet the police did not intervene. Community members shared about aggressive road rage and threats of running folks off the road in Anchorage during election day on social media but felt unsafe calling the police. It is deliberate terrorism against protected classes of citizens to show up with assault rifles in public gatherings. These individuals have deliberately sought out gatherings of BIPOC people to instill terror and sow seeds of violence – this is domestic terrorism, and it is happening in Alaska.

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We are here, putting forward our trust in law enforcement to do the right thing by working alongside BIPOC communities to protect and serve us equitably.

It is critical to proactively assess threats as they emerge, and work with communities ahead of time so there is a trusted system of public safety. We urge Alaska law enforcement agencies to form a team within their forces to regularly monitor, respond to, actively investigate and intervene in potential acts of violence, race-based aggression, threats, violence, menacing behaviors meant to instill community fear, as well as anything that could be or is being experienced as a hate crime during this time.

The election only proves how divided this country is, but it is the members of the BIPOC communities who feel the violent end of it the most. This is unacceptable.

Please join us in proactively developing a plan to protect our communities and ensure all Alaskans can live safely in our communities. First Alaskans Institute, our partners, and BIPOC family stand ready to work alongside law enforcement to address the internal work needed to advance racial equity within its agencies, collaborate to address this crisis of racial tensions and keep our communities safe, and externally to build meaningful relationships with our communities to create a better Alaska.

La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow (Haida/Tlingit), ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake (Haida/Tlingit/Ahtna), E.J.R. David, Neisha Jones, Kaneyo Hirata, George Martinez, Jasmin Smith and Indra Arriaga Delgado are relatives within the BIPOC community and members of Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation - Alaska.

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