Native American Lives Matter, Too


Paul Castaway, a Native American (Sicangu Lakota from Rosebud, S.D.) and a schizophrenic, was shot and killed by Denver police on July 12. At the time he was shot, he reportedly was holding a long knife to his own throat; his mother, Lynn Eagle Feather, had called 911 for help in dealing with her mentally ill son, who reportedly had threatened her with the knife.

The Denver CBS affiliate reported the story this way: “Denver police say it started with a stabbing incident between the suspect, identified as Paul Castaway, 35, and his mother. The mother was not seriously injured, but the scene escalated when Castaway approached officers dangerously close with a weapon.” Eagle Feather is reported to be more upset by the actions of the police than she is about her son’s conduct with the knife and the consensus among friends and family of Castaway is that the shooting was unjustified. Denver attorney David Lane is representing the family, and says that he needs a copy of a surveillance video currently held by the mobile home park in which Castaway lived.

Tammy Vigil, a reporter from a local TV station, was allowed to view the video of the shooting, but the manager of the mobile home park has reportedly been asked not to continue to share the video, and police are saying it is “part of the investigation” raising the question as to whether an order from police to a private party (the mobile home owner or manager) not to do anything with his own private property can be lawful.

People who have seen the video say that Castaway did not threaten police with the knife.

Many of the witnesses to the shooting were children, who have been described as traumatized. In the intervening days, Eagle Feather has heard from some of the children in the neighborhood that they have seen her son Paul, early in the morning, standing by a fence, with his head lowered.

Some press reports have referred to a speed bump in the asphalt where Castaway was standing when he was shot and suggested that he tripped over it while holding the knife to his own throat, giving the impression that he was charging toward officers. Denver police, citing an ongoing investigation, would not comment on whether the responding officers were equipped with Tasers or whether they were trained in mental health crisis intervention. In any event, Castaway’s friends and family are grief-stricken and have held protests in Denver against the shooting. One of these protests was attended by at least a hundred people. Castaway’s family lit sage at the place where he died, in traditional style.

Castaway’s final words at the scene of the shooting were, “What’s wrong with you guys?”

A study released in August 2014 by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other racial group, Indian Country Today reported July 15.

From 1999 through 2011, American law enforcement officers killed 4,531 people, 96% by firearms and 96% of them men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Native Americans, 0.8% of the population, comprise 1.9% of police killings. African Americans, 13% of the population, are victims in 26% of police shootings.

D.H. Kerby is a writer in Philadelphia.

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2015

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