My Turn: Della Brown was a victim of racism

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2003

In Anchorage, Native activist and former Juneau resident Desa Jacobsson is subjecting herself to a crucible of deprivation so that murder victim Della Brown is not forgotten.

Jacobsson went on a hunger strike to protest the recent acquittal of Joshua Wade, who was charged with killing Brown.

She vowed to subsist on a diet of coffee and water until federal civil rights charges are levied against Wade or until Anchorage Police Chief Walt Monegan resigns.

Brown was one of several Native women murdered in Anchorage in recent months. Countless others have endured brutal rapes and assaults. Thanks to police apathy and public disinterest, the women's attackers continue to perpetrate these brutal crimes with impunity. Native activists have posited that Monegan and the Anchorage police are complicit through inaction, ineptitude and lack of interest.

In Alaska and the Lower 48, Native women are many times more likely to be victims of violence than any other demographic group. Ironically, their attackers are proportionately likely to go unpunished.

Perpetrators of attacks against Native women are most often men of other ethnicities. According to the Department of Justice's Web site, "About seven in 10 violent victimizations of [American Indians and Alaska Natives] involved an offender who was described by the victim as someone of a different race."

Non-Natives who abuse Natives frequently go unpunished. Conversely, Natives accused of any crime are much more likely than non-Natives to be convicted and incarcerated. In both Alaska and the Lower 48, Native Americans are disproportionately represented in the Anglo-American criminal justice system.

Indeed, if the roles in the Wade case were reversed, and a Native man stood accused of murdering a white woman, a guilty verdict would have been returned near the trial's inception.

In Alaska, the weaponry of the racist police state is aimed squarely at Natives. Both Native victims and suspects are subjected to judicial and societal double standards that handle them more harshly than non-Natives.

Jacobsson has expressed concern that there have been no letters to the editor decrying the recent verdict. In fact, there have been several letters written in support of Brown and the other victims. Sadly, these letters have been ignored by mainstream Anchorage media that are often as racist as the police and court systems they work with so symbiotically.

Alaska is a state where standards of proof in criminal trials are much higher for non-Natives than for Natives; it is a state where many mainstream media steadfastly refuse to give equal access to those who most need a voice; and it is a state where the police, general public and court systems abound with malevolent or apathetic attitudes toward Native Alaskans.

While the signs that proclaim "No Natives Allowed" may have disappeared from store and restaurant windows, anti-Native racism is still as profoundly inculcated in Anglo-Alaska's collective psyche as it was 50 years ago.

Dave Stephenson, a Tlingit, lives in Juneau. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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