The Tribal Law & Order Act

I recently learned about the Tribal Law and Order Act being passed in Congress. I wonder what this really means for Native communities. The effects of colonists and early US government agents disturbing the harmony of Native communal justice are still felt today. Instead of helping to restore these original systems, activists are relying on the oppressive US judicial institution. The Tribal Law and Order Act is supposed to do a better job of “protecting” Native women against sexual violence. Native communities have had a history of favoring restorative and communal justice rather than the punitive style of justice that the US likes to inflict and since colonization, forms of Native justice have been slowly dying. 

Restorative and communal justice seek to rehabilitate the perpetuator and use the community, not outside forces, to institute real forms of justice. What the Tribal Law and Order Acts essentially says is that instead of really trying to figure out why sexual violence is rampant in Native communities, we’re going to ignore the problem and just lock up anyone who commits this crime. No one is unredeembale and having a bill like this that favors prosecution and imprisonment instead of therapy or getting to the root of the issue, ignores this fact. It ignores the perpetrator and the problem. Surely, sexual violence in Native communities will not be solved by this bill. It says nothing of rape culture and those that are complicit in it.

This bill also protects and emphasizes the police state. This reminds me of the colonial period where sexual violence was committed against Native women and white men blamed it on Native men; this way the white men were seen as saviors of Native women, which instilled fear of Native men as well as false appreciation of the colonizers. It also skewed the importance of the community. This method helped to implement patriarchy, sexism, misogyny, and eurocentricity. To allow and advocate for more encroaching of the police institution onto Native land is both oppressive as well as counter-active. With the police history of discriminating, being violent against and criminalizing communities of color can we really trust the police institution to so-called “protect” Native women?

Protecting Native women would mean an ending to misogyny, sexism, and queerphobia. If you want to stop sexual violence, focus on education and therapy as deterrents not just as a response. As activists, the solution is to focus more on developing strategies to do just that instead of relying on and organizing around the US justice system, an institution that perpetuates the sexism that we should be trying to get rid of.  Do we really need more police to practice surveillance on another community perfectly capable of protecting itself? Yes, we know that Native women deserve equal protection under the law and do deserve that protection, but can this really be protection if it is also oppressive? Can we develop strategies that don’t rely on a marginalizing police and prison state?

The Tribal Law and Order Act also relies on the oppressive Prison Industrial Complex system. The PIC is racist, classist, and sexist. Should advocates against sexual violence be relying on this system where sexual violence is state sponsored within prison walls? “Conditions within the institution continually reinvoke memories of violence and oppression (Are Prisons Obsolete?, Davis).” Do they only care about sexual violence when it happens in the free world?

When I first learned about the Prison Industrial Complex, I was confused about what anti-prison activists saw as a viable alternative to prisons. I believe anti-prison activism to be one of the most powerful and important, yet, ignored liberation movements. When I read Angela Y. Davis’ book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?,” which is obviously pivotal within this movement, my eyes opened to how oppressive the Prison Industrial Complex is. I cannot go into complete detail of all the ills of the prison system here because of length constraints but if you would like to read about the way sexual violence is embedded into the Prison Industrial Complex, read Davis’ book. Here is just a limited overview; the Prison Industrial Complex includes all forms of prison and policing that do not take up the form of restorative or communal justice, here in America and abroad.

First we must realize, illegal acts are committed, number one, because of poverty and racism. The other reason why crimes are committed is because, as the name permits, the Prison Industrial Complex is a business that promotes corporate greed. The more people who go to prison, the more money the government and other corporations make. The government capitalizes off prisoners suffering especially when it comes to the sexual violence that they face and endure. The government therefore also capitalizes off illegal acts committed against victims. Prisons are a form of population control, and if you’re going to limit population growth, go ahead and send the poor people and the people of color away too. Native people are disproportionately incarcerated in the PIC. “‘Prisons, as employed by the Euro-American system, operate to keep Native Americans in a colonial situation. She points out that Native people are vastly overrepresented in the country’s federal and state prisons.” This is the attitude that the government has and yes, people have a personal choice in what they do, however, laws and governments should not make it easier for certain people to commit illegal acts.

Recently, I’ve been noticing the refusal of other liberation movements, such as the feminist movement, to organize around the abolition of the Prison Industrial Complex. Using the practice of intersectionality, feminists and other like-minded movements should realize that anti-prison work is also feminist work, is also anti-racist work, is also anti-queerphobia work, etc. The Prison Industrial Complex was designed to be invisible to the free population, so I cannot be angry with anyone who is uneducated about it, but if we want to be holistic activists we cannot ignore this institution in our activism.

I don’t want to seem ignorant of the facts that illegal acts are being committed everyday and that we need immediate solutions to deter these acts and those who continuously commit them. However, prison is not the answer. As activists our solution should be in educating people about societal ills and finding solutions to those ills, not aiding the government in carrying out marginalization against minorities and other crimes committing within the PIC structure. Prisons are not for rehabilitation, as they were originally created, but for punishment. We cannot be comfortable with living in a society that would rather get even than to improve the perpetrator. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” -Mahatma Gandhi We have all committed criminal acts that, if pursued vehemently enough may have sent us to prison. The life and well being of a person should not mean less because they are deemed a criminal by our “criminal justice” system. We cannot forget to infuse compassion and love into our activism.

Can we develop strategies to advocate for the abolition of prisons and also seek justice for those who commit illegal acts? People of color, when victims of illegal acts advocate strongly for the perpetrator/s to go to prison. How can people of color advocate so strongly for a system that unfairly targets and oppresses them? The pain and loss involved in losing someone can be detrimental to the psyche, however, minorities should be advocating the most for the abolition of this system not helping to perpetuate it. Making new laws criminalizing acts of violence against women will not see a decrease in this type of violence, however they will fill up more of our prisons, cost us more money, while doing absolutely nothing to solve the real issue.
Laws don’t protect us, as we have been brainwashed to believe, they criminalize actions that should be treated with therapy or love.

*cross posted at Refuse the Silence *

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