December 14, 2010

Historic prejudice caused Paul's death

Here's a case that's been in the news the last few months. Now someone has explained why it's relevant to students of Indians in the popular culture.

Frank Paul decision stemmed from historic Canadian prejudice, inquiry told

By Gerry BellettLawyer Stephen Kelliher said the decisions by senior members of the criminal justice branch not to charge police officers for their part in the death of Frank Paul came from a historic Canadian prejudice that devalues the lives of aboriginals.

Kelliher is representing Paul's family at the Davies Commission which is investigating the circumstances that led Paul to die of exposure after being dumped in a downtown alley by Vancouver police Dec. 5, 1998.
And:"What happened that night when Sanderson so callously ordered Frank Paul be left out in the elements? First there was a devaluation of Frank Paul as a human being. 'They are not like us they think differently, look differently, live differently. What applies to us does not apply to them'.

"And that's what happened to Frank Paul. His life was devalued as a human being. The same devaluation took place when Sanderson ordered him to his death and when investigators decided not to conduct a proper investigation and when the prosecutors decided not to charge," said Kelliher.
And:"There is no secret in this country—in fact the Supreme Court of Canada has commented on it—that there is a blind spot which could be called by other names. It's only a matter of degree that separates what happened to Frank Paul from what the government of Canada has done to aboriginal people from the beginning.

"Canada and Canadians are inured and anesthetized to the suffering of aboriginal people, and that's part of who we are," said Kelliher.

"Is it relevant that Frank Paul was an aboriginal? Most certainly. And, in part, did he die as a result of it? Yes he did. And in my submission we have to have the courage to see that the valuation of his life was inextricably tied to his status as an Indian man," Kelliher told Davies.
Comment:  We see the same pattern again and again and again. To sum it up, devaluing people in thought leads to devaluing them in deed. In other words, stereotypes drive racism. Or racist rhetoric fuels hate crimes. All the same or similar ideas.

Two recent examples:

19th-century cartoons about Indians => Execution of Mankato 38 and Wounded Knee "delivered the sentence"

Native women = whores in SCALPED => Irene Bedard abused and Media ignores victimized Native women

In Frank Paul's case, we could add another example:

"Drink like an Indian" at Station 280 and "Firewater Friday" at University of Washington => Frank Paul's death

Obviously, the items I listed didn't lead directly to the results. But these particular items are only a few of the thousands of similar instances in our culture. Collectively, these beliefs--that Indians are inferior savages or drunks or squaws--have led to results such as the ones above.

For more on the subject, see Background Research on Native Stereotypes, Stereotypes Teach Natives They're Inferior, and Stereotypical Thinking Causes Racist Results.

Below:  "Surveillance video images of Police officers manhandling an intoxicated native Frank Paul, 47, to a jailhouse elevator, then dumped outside in near freezing weather, December 6th/1998, in Vancouver. He passed out and died of exposure, and the probe into his death is ongoing."


dmarks said...

Shades of the incident in the 19th century in the northern Plains where a large number of Natives (women and children) were turned out of a US army fort in the dead of winter to die in the snow.

Rob said...

For more on the subject, see:

Frank Paul inquiry clears Crown of bias

A public inquiry into the death of an aboriginal man who froze to death in a Vancouver alley has cleared prosecutors of allegations of bias in their decision not to charge the officers involved.

In his final report released Wednesday, inquiry commissioner William Davies found that the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch addressed all possible criminal charges against one officer who refused Frank Paul entry into the city drunk tank and another who dragged him out and left him in the alley.

Davies said prosecutors applied the law to whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction, and decided against charging the officers.

"I am, however, concerned that given the close and ongoing working relationship between the police and branch prosecutors, informed members of the public may reasonably conclude that there is a risk of preferential treatment in police-related cases," the retired judge wrote in the long-awaited report.