InvestigateWest strengthens communities, engages citizens in civic life, and helps set the policy agenda in the Pacific Northwest through independent investigative and explanatory journalism. Since 2009, our work and the work of our partners has made our region healthier and more accountable. This series is intended to highlight the experience of Native peoples in America, in partnership with The Nation Magazine.
Washington state lawmakers have just passed a budget that pays for a collaboration between the Washington
State Patrol and Washington State University to find out whether state troopers exercise racial bias when they decide to search motorists. Additional funding will aim to improve the diversity of the State Patrol workforce. Critics aren’t convinced that the steps the Legislature and the State Patrol are taking will be enough to address implicit bias.
Following revelations that Washington State Patrol troopers search people of color at rates much higher than whites, the Washington House of Representatives has proposed restarting bias studies, as well as launching a campaign to recruit more people of color into the State Patrol. Such efforts would improve transparency and help build trust with more diverse communities, proponents say.
After InvestigateWest’s revelations last month about how Native Americans were searched at a rate five times higher than white motorists, the State Patrol and the Washington Legislature are weighing in. From funding new studies to calls for more diverse hiring, the agencies are planning to address the issue.
Academic researchers found that minority groups, particularly Native Americans, were being searched at a much higher rate than whites. Analysis of open-records requests, data from millions of traffic stops, and interviews with law enforcement officials and civil rights experts has shown that this trend has continued over the past twelve years, exacerbating existing tensions between police and the communities they patrol.
Native American motorists pulled over by the Washington State Patrol are more than five times more likely than white motorists to be searched. Rates are also elevated for black and Latino drivers. This story explores potential solutions to police bias, mostly implicit, that leads to this situation nationwide.
In our Driving While Indian project, InvestigateWest used data obtained by Stanford University’s Open Policing Project to look at the demographics of who state troopers stop and how often they’re searched. Focusing on searches that weren’t required by statute or policy, we compared the search rates to how often contraband was found in order to determine bias. We found that Native Americans are being searched at a rate more than five times higher than the rate at which white motorists are searched.
Of the estimated 3.5 million reported oil and gas wells across North America, no federal agency or national organization chronicles exactly how many are abandoned, no longer producing but not properly shut down. Studies show that chemicals from these “unplugged” wells cause environmental side effects and are linked to health risks, which directly affects those who live on the land. Many of these wells are on Indian land, where families are tied to the land for millennia and have no real option to leave.
I was on deadline, with all of the accompanying signs of the d-word: sweaty palms, clenched gut, my children watching too much television while I worked overtime, when I realized, with two days until the issue closed, I was facing an intractable roadblock. To ensure the accuracy of one sentence in the story, I would have to visit each federally recognized Native American tribe and Alaska Native community in the United States. That’s 567 tribes in nearly as many locations. The article, “Reckoning with the ‘Native Harvey Weinsteins,’” which will be published tomorrow, is about the unique circumstances that make it difficult for tribal members who experience sex discrimination in Indian Country to report and end abuse. Part of the issue is that as a nod to tribal sovereignty, Congress has exempted tribes from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the law that prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual harassment and assault, in the workplace. Tribes can of course write their own codes, filling this void with culturally appropriate laws that protect tribal employees and as part of my research I had tried to determine just how many tribes had done so.
When indigenous women experience harassment at work, gaps in tribal law leave them in a precarious grey area. In the aftermath of harassment, coming forward puts Native people at great personal risk, and forces a perceived choice between protecting their personal safety or protecting their tribe.