During a congressional hearing, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) attempted to tie “fossil fuel extraction” to the kidnapping, rape, and murder of American Indian women. She intimated that local police officers helped facilitate this violence by protecting the safety of pipeline workers from violent environmental activists. And she seemed to blame the Keystone XL pipeline for crimes that took place in areas where it had not been built.
AOC, who blames fossil fuels for climate change and has asked bank executives if they should be held responsible for climate change because of their services to the energy industry, said she found a “very meaningful connection” between “fossil fuel extraction sites and abductions and murders of indigenous women.”
Ocasio-Cortez said “ruthless” oil companies encourage violence, and she accused unnamed state legislatures of “authorizing and almost legalizing the use of violence against fossil fuel protesters.” In fact, environmentalist protesters have frequently threatened — or perpetrated — violence against oil and gas industry workers, especially at pipeline worksites. For instance:
- A team of 20 environmentalist extremists attacked a pipeline worksite with axes and shot flare guns at workers in British Columbia. They felled trees across roadways and threw torches at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who responded. A policeman called the February 17 assault on the Coastal Gaslink pipeline “a calculated and organized violent attack that left its victims shaken and a multimillion dollar path of destruction.” No arrests were made;
- In September 2016, a group of protesters attacked pipeline workers near the Standing Rock reservation, injuring four security officers and two dogs; and
- One protester against the Dakota Access Pipeline shot at police three times with a .38 caliber pistol. Other demonstrators threatened cops with Molotov cocktails and hurled feces at them. Security guards also say the Green activists attacked them, flashing a handgun and a knife.
Ocasio-Cortez seemed outraged that local police officers would “protect their extraction sites” from such protests, “even when workers are raping and killing indigenous women.”
AOC seemed to say that proposing a pipeline caused murders to increase. The congresswoman reported that 10% of indigenous murders or kidnappings that took place in “states affiliated with pipeline projects” had “occurred in counties where the Keystone Pipeline alone is proposed to be built.” Ocasio-Cortez did not explain how the future construction of the pipeline retroactively caused deaths and kidnappings to occur in the past.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 17, 2022
The hearing drew attention to the tangled, overlapping web of police jurisdictions that come into play at a reservation; unfortunately, not all of its conclusions were accurate.
AOC’s witness — Angel Charley, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women — testified that oil and natural gas companies set up “man camps” for pipeline workers, who abuse American Indians with impunity, because “many tribes do not have tribal jurisdiction over non-Native workers.”
Ocasio-Cortez asked whether this means criminals “essentially escape jurisdiction from having a clear path to accountability because of where these sites are happening.” Charley agreed.
In fact, all crimes that take place on reservations are punishable — and some law enforcement officers say giving reservations more jurisdiction may reduce the number of prosecutions. “The FBI has exclusive jurisdiction for about 20 serious crimes on Indian land such as murder, rape, robbery, etc., and will come in and take over any investigation when and if those crimes occur,” Tim Dees, a former tribal law officer, explained. Some tribes allow local police departments to make arrests and bring charges on their land, while others entrust this exclusively to tribal law enforcement officers.
Reservations are a frequent haven for American Indian fugitives. “Tribal governments are notoriously political, and taking enforcement action against a favored person, such as the tribal chairman’s nephew, could be fatal to one’s career,” Dees wrote. South Dakota reservations sheltered 22% of all active felony warrants issued by the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office in 2018.
For her final question, Ocasio-Cortez asked Charley to explain “how this collaboration between law enforcement and fossil fuel companies puts indigenous women, in particular, at heightened risk of abduction and murder.”
Charley cited no facts and replied with only one sentence: “This is a continuation of state violence against indigenous women.”
“I think what we see here is that the data speaks [sic] for itself,” Ocasio-Cortez replied.
The Bronx socialist’s comments came during a March 3 congressional hearing on “The Neglected Epidemic of Missing BIPOC Women and Girls.” The Democrat-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee echoed MSNBC’s Joy Reid in bemoaning “missing white woman syndrome.” While the committee asserted without proof that “white women are given vastly higher levels of media attention than women of color,” it admitted “the problem is impossible to measure” due to a lack of data.
In written testimony, Charley blamed the murder rate on “systemic racism” that is “rooted in the devaluation of [i]ndigenous lives since the onset of colonization.” But the committee said, “The disproportionate rate of missing Black and Indigenous women and girls can be attributed to … higher rates of intimate partner violence against BIPOC women than white women.” In 2016, the National Institute of Justice, a U.S. government institution, found American Indian and Alaska Native women were 1.6 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to suffer domestic violence. The difference in the rate of sexual assaults was not statistically significant.
Critics of the hearing suggested that AOC should spend more time focusing on her own district’s surging crime rate. “Are they drilling in NYC?” asked one Twitter user. New York City experienced 485 murders in 2021, and the number of major crimes committed in the Big Apple — such as homicide, rape, robbery, felonious assault, and burglary/grand theft — reached its highest level in five years.
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