Settler Colonialism, Policing and Racial Terror: The Police Shooting of Loreal Tsingine

Abstract

On 27 March 2014, Loreal Tsingine, a 27-year-old Navajo woman was shot and killed by Austin Shipley, a white male police officer, also 27 years old, who said he was trying to apprehend her for a suspected shoplifting. Shipley was never charged, and the Department of Justice declined to investigate the Winslow police on the matter. This article explores Shipley’s killing of Loreal Tsingine and the police investigation of the shooting as quotidian events in settler colonial states. Police shootings of Indigenous people and the legal response to police use of force (along with everyday settler violence) are a part of the racial terror that is a central part of settler colonialism. Both the shooting and the official narratives of it as a justifiable use of force reveal the psychic and material underpinnings of a settler state, a state that continually imagines and consolidates itself as a community of whites imperiled by Indians among others. White settler violence directed at those imagined as threats lives just beneath the surface of everyday settler life, and importantly, flows through institutions such as policing, embedding itself in everyday professional routines. The extractive relations that are the basis of settler colonialism require and produce white subjects for whom Indigenous lands and bodies are the resource for white identity; policing is one site where white men and women (as well as those aspiring to whiteness), can enact racial hierarchy on behalf of the colonial state with impunity.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Statistics of police killings by race are notoriously complicated. In 2016, The Guardian reports that of the 2016 people killed by police, 24 were Native Americans and 266 were African American. When considered relative to percentage of the population, Native Americans who constitute 0.8 % of the population comprise 1.9% of police shootings while African Americans comprise 13% of the population and comprise 26% of police shootings. These figures suggest comparable rates of police shootings. An important issue to consider is who is counted as Native American or African American. A second important point is whether Native Americans are more likely to die in cells rather than in police shootings. Additionally, see: Mike Males, “Who are Police Killing”, Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (August 26, 2014), https://www.cjcj.org/news/8113 This study using data from the federal Centers for Disease Control, showed that over a 12-year period, Native Americans were statistically more likely to be killed by police than any other group, including African-Americans. John Swaine et al. “The Counted, 2015 and 2016 datasets”, The Guardian (2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2015/jun/01/the-counted-police-killings-us-database This study revealed that between 2015 and 2016, Native Americans were the only racial group to see their death toll due to police shootings go up, even as the number of officer-involved shootings across the country fell.

  2. 2.

    Police narratives frequently mention tunnel vision which suggests that it is a concept that police learn in training. See: Force Science Institute, “New Findings Expand Understanding of Tunnel Vision, Auditory Blocking and Lag Time,” Police One, Aug 1, 2005. https://www.policeone.com/officer-shootings/articles/1247087-New-findings-expand-understanding-of-tunnel-vision-auditory-blocking-and-lag-time/ See also, David Montero, “'Why Am I Going to Die Today?': The Words of First Responders to Deadly Las Vegas Shooting,” Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2018. https://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-vegas-police-shooting-2018-story.html.

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Acknowledgements

The author is grateful to Stephanie Santos and Bianca Beauchemin for research assistance, Jennifer Denetdale, Melanie Yazzie and David Correia for their insights and Leslie Thielen Wilson and the reviewers for their comments.

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Correspondence to Sherene H. Razack.

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Razack, S.H. Settler Colonialism, Policing and Racial Terror: The Police Shooting of Loreal Tsingine. Fem Leg Stud 28, 1–20 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-020-09426-2

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Keywords

  • Indigenous women
  • Policing
  • Racial violence
  • Settler colonialism