face of fashion in Jamaica is that of an innocent looking thirteen year
old girl. Heavily made up and suggestively sporting a bikini,
this pubescent girl was recently featured in local newspapers, touting her as the latest winner
in the Pulse Jamaican fashion model contest. While it holds true
that the fashion industry has long been centered on the bodies of under-aged
girls, what is startling about this latest face of the Jamaican fashion
industry is its’obvious youth. This youth, when combined with
the not-so-subtle sexualization of the girl, paints a frightening picture
of our society. No matter the justification, how does it become okay to feature a child, not even fully physically developed,
in a bikini and wearing make-up?
As should be
expected, the image of the girl has been met by some degree of public outrage. Interestingly enough, the moderate
level of outrage seems to me to be in sharp contrast with the wide-scale
public reaction, some months ago, to the proposed introduction
of a school textbook
that made passing mention of homosexual families. At that time,
the collective national sentiment towards the text, which in defining
family types made mention of those with same-sex parents, can be summed
up as "Not in Jamaica!" The thinking and feeling seems to
have been that condoning, even if implicitly, the normalcy of homosexuality
would be a very un-Jamaican thing to do. Yet, this same level
of nationalism does not surface when we see the body of a young girl
being portrayed in such a manner.
The lack of
collective outrage is an indictment on our society.
Against a wider
backdrop of sexual violence being committed against, and perpetrated
by, children and adolescents, the sexualization of an under-aged teenager
is extremely problematic and potentially dangerous.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
We live in
a sexualized world. Companies use sex to sell the most random of products,
from jump drives to cars. Rapid advancements in the media have made
images and information accessible to almost everyone, easily bringing
music and home videos, photos and advertisements directly into our homes,
our phones, and our computers. The music we listen to; the movies we
watch; the advertisements which inundate us; and the newspapers that
we read are typically filled with references to, or explicit mention
Sex is not
a bad thing; but by fostering societies in which it is encouraged to
become a driving force, almost an entity of its own, we are engaging
in a dangerous game of Russian roulette. We are paving the way
for misplaced desire, in which desire becomes the be-all and end-all,
and humanity in general, and the protection of our children in particular
become secondary issues.
Calls have been
made for local
authorities to band together to tackle the growing wave of sexual violence
that is threatening the lives of our children. While it cannot
be stated that images such as that of the 13-year old model automatically
trigger sexual violence against children, with burgeoning evidence of
such abuse, it just seems like a risk we can no longer afford to take.
As the saying goes, if we are not choosing to be a part of the solution,
we must therefore be a part of the problem.
Any move, subtle
or otherwise, which not only encourages us to look at under-aged girls
as sexual objects; but by extension creates misplaced ideas amongst
young girls of what it means to be sexy, is dangerous, and ultimately,
our children are paying the price.
Andrew Curley, a member of the Red Nation collective, which spearheaded the protests, told Rewire in a phone interview that Loreal Tsingine’s family is still in the dark as to whether, or how, the officer who shot her will be held accountable.
On March 27 a white male police officer shot and killed a 27-year-old Navajo woman, Loreal Tsingine, in Winslow, Arizona. Over a month later, the community is still demanding an investigation into the killing; they say it is symptomatic of an entrenched pattern of police violence against Native residents in towns that border the 27,000-square mile Navajo Nation, a territory that extends into Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
Tsingine, the mother of a 9-year-old girl, died on Easter Sunday after Officer Austin Shipley, responding to a complaint of shoplifting at a local convenience store, shot the woman five times when she allegedly brandished a pair of scissors. The office apparently perceived them as a “substantial threat” to his safety, according to a press statement issued by the Office of the President of the Navajo Nation.
Eyewitnesses to the killing claim the officer shot Tsingine while she was handcuffed on the ground, according to local news reports. Later, as she was twitching and gasping for air, the officer refused to perform CPR on her, and prevented concerned bystanders from doing the same, one eyewitness told the Arizona Republic. Shipley is currently on paid administrative leave.
The following Monday, Tsingine’s family gathered with Native advocates and Black Lives Matter activists for a vigil outside the Winslow Police Department. Their list of demands included an independent review of the murder and a thorough investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into Arizona’s systematic racial profiling of Native residents.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
Andrew Curley, a member of the Red Nation collective, which spearheaded the protests, told Rewire in a phone interview that Tsingine’s family is still in the dark as to whether, or how, the officer who shot her will be held accountable. Family members recently gathered with the local community to reaffirm their demands, including a call for financial compensation, but state officials have yet to respond.
“Immediately after her death, the case was transferred out of Winslow to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (ADPS) in Phoenix, which means the community can no longer take their grievances directly to the Winslow police,” Curley told Rewire. “Erecting such geographic barriers to justice is a common tactic used by the police, part of their efforts to discredit the victims of police violence and create a bureaucratic maze in which time slows down and the community loses focus.”
“Over time things become more opaque,” he went on, “and this is how institutions like the police force protect their own members. For us as a community, it means we have no trust in the process, no guarantee that the department investigating itself will be free of bias.”
Eileen Luna-Firebaugh, an associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona, agrees.
“Police officers are performing a public job, they are being paid with public funds and they have a responsibility to the public—they need to know that the light of public scrutiny is on them,” she said in a phone interview with Rewire. “I firmly believe that the investigation of an incident [like this one] should not be done by the sheriff’s department or any law enforcement agency but by a civilian agency that’s part of the city, that has access to all relevant police records, and that can compel testimony.”
“If an investigation is carried out by an impartial third party and not by the police department itself, then the community is more likely to believe its conclusions,” Luna-Firebaugh said.
Currently, advocates say, there is little to no trust between border town residents and law enforcement personnel, an unsurprising reality given the rate of racial profiling that reportedly occurs on the outskirts of the vast Navajo Nation, particularly in towns like Gallup and Albuquerque in New Mexico, Cortez in Colorado, and Flagstaff and Winslow in Arizona.
In 2008 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Arizona analyzed hundreds of thousands of recordspertaining to highway stops, searches, and arrests and concluded that Native Americans who were stopped by ADPS officers were over three times more likely than white drivers to be subsequently detained or searched.
The ACLU’s report stated that these disproportionate search rates were “not justified by higher contraband seizure rates.”
For Curley, who has been stopped multiple times on the highway for such minor violations as a cracked windshield or the use of a GPS, racial profiling is only the first step in a much more insidious process—the murder of Native residents by law enforcement personnel.
Data from the Center on Criminal and Juvenile Justice suggests that Native Americans, who comprise 0.8 percent of the country’s population but account for 1.9 percent of police killings, are more likely to be killed by police officers than any other racial or ethnic group, including Black people.
“Think about how we get to that scenario: We get there through stops and arrests,” Curley said. “That is when the state is more likely to use its authority, its violence, against Black and brown and Native bodies. Once we’re arrested, we’re more likely than white people to have a violent encounter with the police—this is when their perceived fear of us, their paranoia, comes to the fore. This is when they see a pair of scissors and claim their lives are in danger.”
For Melanie Yazzie, a founding member of the Red Nation who is currently working toward a PhD in American Studies at the University of New Mexico, paranoia among law enforcement is a natural byproduct of unfinished settler colonialism.
“The mandate of white settlements in border spaces has always been to contain and manage the threat of Native existence,” she told Rewire in a phone interview. “White populations in these spaces largely embrace patriotic values of American nationalism and exceptionalism, which are absolutely essential to maintaining U.S. capitalism and imperialism.”
“But these towns lie adjacent to a huge Native nation—we call the Navajo Nation the Sleeping Giant—and are home to large populations of Native people who, by definition, were supposed to have been eliminated, exterminated, long ago with the creation of the nation state we call the United States of America.”
“The fact that we are literally everywhere,” Yazzie went on, “that we continue to exist, to have political authority, explains why certain technologies of state control and violence are so extreme in these spaces.”
As statistics have shown, this violence is not limited to state actors but extends in a continuum that includes vigilante violence and hate crimes, Yazzie added. She pointed to the twin murders in Albuquerque in 2014 of Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson, two homeless Navajo men who were beaten to death in their sleep, as a particularly stark reminder of the threat Native people face, from multiple fronts, on a daily basis.
While Tsingine’s death has rightly stoked fear and outrage within the community, it has also reignited a fervent quest for justice. As Jorge Rivas reported for Fusion last month, Tsingine’s murder prompted Albert Hale, a member of the Arizona State Legislature’s Native American Caucus, to pen a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging the Department of Justice to “address the community’s longstanding and deep-seated concerns about systemic misconduct toward Native Americans” and initiate an investigation of the Winslow Police Department.
For advocates like Yazzie, there is a long and messy road ahead.
“The question we often ask ourselves as members of the Red Nation is, ‘What does justice look like, really?’” she explained to Rewire. On the one hand, advocates are wary of seeking answers in a system of mass incarceration but on the other, they are aware that families of the victims—many of them further marginalized by poverty—often do not feel safe while perpetrators walk the streets.
“The climate of fear in Winslow right now is incredibly high—people have said that if Shipley is not found guilty, if he is not locked up for murder, they are just going to move away rather than live in constant fear of being his next victim,” Yazzie said.
She said her collective is working closely with Tsingine’s family, as well as with members of Black Lives Matter, to find new frameworks of self-determination and justice.
“In some ways this is a conversation that is just beginning, at least in places like Winslow,” she said. “We had over 300 people at our first vigil, people who were speaking powerfully, who didn’t want to be silent anymore, and that to me was really important. We are demanding justice, we are thinking deeply about what it means, and we are moving forward,” she said.
This piece, the fourth and final installment, was cross-posted from Indian Country Today with permission as part of a joint series about the missing and murdered Native women in the United States and Canada. You can read the other pieces in the series here.
The “missing white woman syndrome,” explains the lack of media attention for missing Native women, according to Makoons Miller Tanner of Duluth. “Pretty, young, middle class white women make good victims versus Native women who may have criminal pasts,” noted Miller Tanner, who maintains the Justice for Native Women blog.
In Indian country, cases of the missing and murdered are often not covered by the media. They grow cold and are forgotten.
Sarah Deer, professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law who has an extensive history of working to end violence against Native women, described the lack of data and attention to missing and murdered Native women as a conspiracy of indifference on the part of the U.S. government and law enforcement. “If we had the funding to search and assess our data, I think we would find that we in the U.S. have absolutely similar numbers to Canada in terms of missing and murdered women,” she said.
(Read more about the U.S. government and law enforcement’s responses to the violence against Native women in the second and third installments of this series, here and here.)
Deer noted that the United States and Canada have similar social and economic dynamics affecting Indigenous women such as histories of boarding schools and migration to urban settings. “We share a parallel trauma,” she noted. “Terrible things happen to our women, but it never seems to reach a priority among law enforcement. Our communities must empower themselves at the grassroots level to make change, otherwise it will never happen.”
Change is beginning to come, and as Deer noted, it is at the grassroots level. There are numerous ad hoc efforts to keep databases of missing and murdered Native women, as well as a growing number of social media sites dedicated to spreading the word about missing girls and women in Indian country.
The Save Wiyabi Project (“Wiyabi” is Assiniboine for “women”), the Justice for Native Women blog, and the Sing Our Rivers Red project are examples of such groups.
Lauren Chief Elk and Laura Madison created a map as part of the Save Wiyabi Project to help track missing and murdered women. “This was created by Indigenous women for Indigenous women, because our governments and media erase the large scale violence against us,“ according to a statement explaining the site.
According to Chief Elk, Save Wiyabi has verified 1,050 violent incidents involving Indigenous women, those who have disappeared, been murdered, or been assaulted. “We also found that many of the tribal law enforcement agencies we contacted basically have no established procedures at all for collecting missing person’s reports,” she said.
“There seems to be a very cavalier attitude about missing women even among our own people.”