With the 2018 election cycle already in full swing it is perhaps not surprising that Senator Heidi Heitkamp is grandstanding on legislation she has named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a Fargo resident and Spirit Lake Sioux tribal member who was abducted and murdered earlier this year.
I’m not necessarily arguing against the efficacy of the policy Heitkamp is proposing. It may well prove to be good reform. I look forward to a thorough debate over the reforms.
My complaint is that Heitkamp’s posturing around the legislation has more to do with her desire to get re-elected than sound legal reform.
But don’t take my word for it. Look at how Heitkamp herself talks about the legislation.
“Native women and girls face a crisis of exploitation, violence, and murder – we must take action to protect them as I’ve long been working to do,” Heitkamp said in a press release announcing her legislation.
“It’s time to give a voice to these voiceless women,” she said during a speech from the Senate floor. “It’s time to bring their perpetrators to justice and give a voice to the families who are struggling even today, sometimes decades later, to understand how this can happen in America.”
Maybe that’s good political strategy. Liberal Democrats like Heitkamp, of all people, know their way around identity politics. This legislation is central to her re-election strategy, and she’s going to check off as many boxes in the identity politics guidebook as she can, including naming the policy after a high-profile murder victim.
But it’s not just Native American women who are in jeopardy. According to data from the federal government’s National Institute of Justice, in Native American communities men and women are subjected to violence at nearly identical rates.
In fact, compared to the white population, Native American men are victimized at a higher rate than women. “The lifetime victimization rate is 1.2 times as high for American Indian and Alaska Native women as for White women; for men, it is 1.3 times as high,” the NoJ reports.
Native American women are more likely to be victimized by non-Indian perpetrators, but not a whole lot more:
In terms of Indian-on-Indian violence, men and women have nearly identical rates:
What Senator Heitkamp has identified is a very real problem. There is a justice gap in our Native American communities, and that needs to be fixed.
But Heitkamp leveraging this situation for political gain by injecting identity politics into a place where it’s not warranted does a disservice to this issue. Case in point, this from a bullet point in Senator Heitkamp’s press release announcing her proposed legislation:
Require an annual report to Congress with data. The report would include statistics on missing and murdered Native women, since there is little data on this problem and there isn’t a central location for keeping that information. The report would also include recommendations on how to improve data collection.
We’re going to report this data for women…but not men?
Do Native American men who go missing or get murdered not matter? We don’t care about the data on them?
Again, this is a real issue worthy of real debate and reform. Which is why Heitkamp’s crass political gamesmanship is so insulting.
This issue deserves better than a grasping Senator with a desperate desire to get re-elected.