Opinion

Melanie Yazzie: Border town violence connected to colonization






Navajo Nation President, right front, and other tribal officials met with Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry last month to discuss the brutal murders of two tribal members in New Mexico's largest city. Photo by Rick Abasta / Office of the Navajo Nation President

Melanie Yazzie explores the murders of three Navajo Nation men in Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico:
In the early morning hours of July 19, 2014 three teenagers entered an empty dirt parking lot in Albuquerque’s Westside. The lot is well known as a sleeping site for the homeless. The teens proceeded to viciously bludgeon Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson beyond recognition while the two men slept. Gorman, from Shiprock, and Thompson, from Church Rock, were Diné. Jerome Eskeets, who is also Diné, narrowly escaped with his life.

In response to the killings, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry and Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly met to develop a task force on Native American homelessness in Albuquerque and other border towns. President Shelly has called for a Federal Bureau of Investigation enquiry into the killings as possible hate crimes.

The Albuquerque District Attorney’s Office states there is no evidence that Gorman’s and Thompson’s murders were racially motivated. In fact, the perpetrators reportedly boasted about the indiscriminate nature of their attacks, which possibly exceed 50 separate incidents.

In informal conversations about the killings of Gorman and Thompson, I have heard others use the language of hate crimes to describe the incident. This makes sense: the crime occurred along ostensibly clear racial and class lines. The victims are all poor Native Americans, the perpetrators all poor Hispanics.

The label ‘hate crime’ is typically used to bracket a specific kind of violence motivated by extreme prejudice or bigotry. Congress defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”

By emphasizing abject poverty, devastating alcoholism, acute racial tensions, or the exceptional violence that distinguishes these perpetrators from others, existing attention to Gorman’s and Thompson’s deaths filter the incident through the logic of extremes that we associate with hate crimes.

Why, then, do these comments seem less accusatory than uncertain, as if their hosts are grasping for available formulas to make sense of what appears to many online commentators as “senseless” brutality?

Get the Story:
Melanie K. Yazzie: Brutal Violence in Border Towns Linked to Colonization (Indian Country Today 8/22)

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Navajo Nation president calls for FBI probe of brutal murders (07/25)
Navajo Nation president to discuss brutal murders with mayor (7/24)
Navajo Nation officials seek meeting in response to murders (7/23)
Bail set at $5M for teens accused of murdering Navajo men (7/22)
Teens accused of killing homeless Navajo men in New Mexico (7/21)