Continuing 1999 article on crime "relative" to Jilleda’s case:
PART II: WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ.
WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Don’t try to tell Navajo Police Chief Leonard Butler the murder rate on the Navajo Nation has anything to do with the traditional "Warrior Way."
People kill each other because they get drunk, he will tell you. They do it with guns and knives, rocks, their bare hands and with vehicles. He and the 300 officers who work for him get to clean it up, day after day, year after year.
During 1998, the Navajo Police Department saw a marked decrease in homicides on the reservation, only 33 for the entire year, as opposed to 57 for 1997. Some observers attribute that to the massive efforts by the NPD to address the problems of gang-related violence. Butler agreed that that may have had something to do with it. "We’ve made a substantial effort for the last eight to 10 years concerning gangs," he said. On that particular issue, he said, "we recognized we had a problem."
Alcohol abuse breeds denial as quickly in Indian Country as anywhere else, but with a few cultural twists. There is no such thing as a "closet alcoholic" in Indian Country, and drinking is something that is most often done in groups. Public reaction to alcohol-related crimes or accidents tends to reach what Butler called "crisis points," as when six people died in a single accident in April after they visited a bootlegger in Chinle, Ariz. The accident occurred just before the spring session of the Navajo Nation Council. Council members demanded that Butler appear before them and explain what his department was doing about bootlegging.
Quite a bit, as it turns out. Butler’s department had made a number of arrests — but to little avail. The Navajo tribe can only prosecute misdemeanors, and federal officials have been reluctant to handle bootlegging cases. A bootlegger can expect to be fined $500. Considering the profits in selling a pick-up full of beer at $8 to $10 per six pack, along with some dollar pints of cheap wine that fetch $5 each, the fines don’t mean much. Bootleggers don’t have to worry about the six-month jail sentence. There are only 200 jail cells on the reservation. Those cells are not up to federal standards, Butler said, and are needed for violent offenders.
There are enough of those to go around. Butler estimated that there have been about 30 homicides on the Navajo Nation so far this year. "We deal with [violence] almost on a daily basis," he said. Butler, who has served 23 years on the NPD and four years as its chief, is a strong proponent of treatment, rather than incarceration, for Navajos who break the tribe’s anti-liquor laws. He told the council it should consider legalizing alcohol to create the necessary revenues to augment law enforcement and fund treatment centers.
At the spring session, delegate after delegate bemoaned the fact that the council has talked about the bootlegging issue for years without taking action. "What those people don’t realize," Butler said, "is the role they are playing. If the problem is going to be addressed, then the whole Navajo Nation has to be involved."
When something bad happens because of alcohol, such as the accident in Chinle or a particularly gruesome murder, people react. They have marches to Window Rock and demand action from the council. But the interest is short-lived. He and his officers don’t forget it, however, "because we’re the ones out there picking up bodies and telling the next of kin."
Butler estimated that 90 percent of the calls the NPD gets are alcohol-related. Like other law enforcement officers in neighboring communities who deal with Navajo-on-Navajo violence, he cannot remember a murder case that was not. According to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control, Navajos begin to drink early: The median age of first intake is nine. Economics on the reservation, where the average per capita income is about $7,000 and the unemployment rate is estimated at 42 percent, feed the fuel of despair.
Nobody who deals with violence within the Navajo Nation can tell you what comes first, but they do know that economics and addiction feed on each other. Alcohol is the drug of choice in the Nation and, like any drug, promises financial gain for those who market it. Many Navajos are cynical about tribal efforts to crack down on bootlegging. "All they want to do is fine these people to get the money," said one tribal member after listening to a task force discussion for creating higher fines for bootleggers, including $1,000 "donations" for treatments centers. "They want to get the money, but what are they going to do with it? They aren’t doing anything to help the people, and they want to hurt the people who are helping themselves."
The people who are "helping themselves" in this instance represent a tangible threat to the young people on the reservation. More than 3,500 young Navajos enter the labor pool on the reservation every year, according to the Navajo Division of Economic Development. If they have job skills or political connections, they may become part of the tribe’s 6,000 member work force. If not, they may become more susceptible to the predations of bootleggers. Like other drug dealers, bootleggers don’t ask for ID.
Most Navajo youth find it extremely difficult to leave the reservation. Unlike other Americans, they are taught an allegiance to the land that is palpable. This land, they will tell you, is where the Navajo are supposed to be, and once they leave it, they become disconnected to their greatest source of strength.
Many Navajos, including Navajo Police Chief Butler, believe that Navajo salvation from booze will have to come by teaming modern treatment for alcoholism with traditional healing. But it will have to be mandatory and enforced. For obvious reasons, Navajo police are not above looking the other way when dealing with intoxication. Two years ago, an enraged husband starting drinking and driving around the Arizona side of the reservation, looking for his absent wife. Police stopped him twice within 24 hours. During the first stop, they took away his guns. The second time, they took him to a detox center. The man walked in the front door of the center and out the back, then across the street where he borrowed a vehicle from a relative, and a deer rifle. Less than five hours later, he used the weapon to shoot his wife to death in front of their five-year-old son.
Butler, himself a recovering alcoholic, recently asked the council, "Where are our treatment centers?" He went through treatment at an off-reservation treatment center. "It was rough. Those people did not think like me, and I did not think like them." Butler, who also said he understood from first-hand experience what it was like "to need a drink at 3 in the morning," has a gut-level understanding of alcohol addiction. But his financially-strapped department can’t begin to address the problem. And the federal government, which has what is known as a trust responsibility to the Navajo people, seems unwilling to address what is acknowledged as their basic underlying malady. Butler noted the federal government’s ongoing multi-million dollar investment in preventing diabetes in Indian Country, but also observed that the impact of alcohol consumption is rarely mentioned as a contributing factor. "But you have to realize," Butler said, "diabetes is a respectable disease."
(Steve Devitt article Reposted Under Fair use Act; All credit for above article to Steve Devitt. Thank you, Steve!)
As the preceding articles show, not much has changed in over 10 years in Navajoland!
Repeat: article from 1999 could have been written yesterday since so little has actually changed on the Navajo Reserve: