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Barack on the Issues

Sovereignty & Federal Relations  |  Education  |  Economic Development  |  Law Enforcement & Justice

LAW ENFORCEMENT & JUSTICE

The most fundamental function of all governments is to ensure the safety of their citizens and maintain law and order. For tribes, this responsibility falls on tribal governments, and in certain respects, the federal government. The federal government has a legal trust responsibility to aid tribal nations in furthering self-government in recognition of tribes’ inherent sovereignty. Unfortunately, the government has failed to live up to its obligation to help tribes maintain order.

Tribes have been divested of much of the authority to control their own lands, and the government has failed to support tribal law enforcement systems. As a result, many tribal communities experience staggering rates of crime, having neither the resources nor the jurisdiction to protect their own communities. Barack is committed to providing tribal nations with adequate funding for law enforcement and judicial systems. He is also committed to addressing core jurisdictional problems so that tribes can provide for the public health, safety, and political integrity of their communities.

Policing: Traditional tribal societies had sophisticated methods of maintaining law and order. Unfortunately, centuries of destructive federal policies have left tribes with few resources to provide basic law enforcement services in today’s society. The government made the adoption of the United States’ justice system mandatory, stripped tribes of the authority to enforce it, and has consistently failed to adequately support tribes or enforce the law in their stead. Obama is committed adequately funding Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement services and removing bureaucratic obstacles to improving the delivery of law enforcement services. Barack Obama also supports fully funding the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that many tribal law enforcement agencies have come to rely upon.

Tribal Courts: Strong tribal courts able to enforce, interpret, and make tribal law foster healthy communities. Additionally, many tribal courts utilize dispute resolution systems rooted in traditional tribal common law, which serves to empower local communities. Despite the vital role of tribal courts to community development, many tribal justice systems are severely underfunded and unable to meet ever-growing case loads. Tribes regularly struggle to provide infrastructure and staffing needs such as such as security, digital recording, clerks, and case management systems. Barack Obama will increase aid to tribal nations for tribal court systems.

Criminal Jurisdiction: Violence Aganst Women and Methamphetamine Use

Burgeoning Violence: Violence in Indian Country is committed at rates among the highest levels in the country. A recent study by Amnesty International details the alarming rates at which Native women are subject to violence. The report states that 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped in their lifetime, and are almost 3 times as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women of America. Similarly, Methamphetamine use on reservations is out of control. For example, in 2005 more than one quarter of babies born on the San Carlos Apache Reservation were born addicted to meth, and 74 percent of Indian law enforcement agencies responding to a national survey reported that meth use was the greatest threat to their communities. The same survey reported dramatic increases in cases of domestic violence, child neglect, sex crimes, and weapons charges.

A Jurisdictional Maze: Both of these unfortunate situations, along with the extreme rates of crime on reservations, share a root problem: the jurisdictional maze on Indian lands makes law enforcement complex, uncertain, and all too often, rare. Depending on the identity of the victim and the perpetrator, criminal jurisdiction falls to the tribe, the federal government, or the state. When the offender is non-Indian, the tribe does not have jurisdiction. This is a problem as a substantial portion of offenses are committed by non-Indians. For example, 88% of crimes against Native women are committed by non-Indians. Having different jurisdictions depending on the race of the involved parties makes identification of the proper enforcement difficult and disheartening, and non-tribal law enforcement is often sparse and distant. This maze allows for pockets of lawlessness, and allows reservations to be easy targets for drug rings and manufacturers.

A New Look at Tribal Justice: Barack Obama will work to encourage a reexamination of the current jurisdictional scheme. A recent DOJ report states that the 1978 legal decision largely responsible for the current design is an "obstacle" to getting control of the abysmal crime rate in Indian country. As president, Barack Obama will reexamine this decision. Without jurisdiction over both Indians and non-Indians alike, tribes are unable to address a large portion of the criminal activity on their homelands. Meanwhile, Obama encourages authorities with jurisdiction on reservations to work with tribes in order to provide Native women and families with the protection they need. Barack Obama also supports policies targeting methamphetamine manufacturers and distributors.

Combat Meth Act of 2005: Barack Obama supported the Combat Meth Act of 2005 which was signed into law during the 109th Congress. The act puts federal funds into the fight against methamphetamine, provides assistance to children affected by meth abuse, and places restrictions on the sale of the ingredients used to make the drug. Medicines containing pseudoephedrine and ephedrine (decongestants and asthma medication, for example) must now be kept behind pharmaceutical counters, and consumers must provide proof of age to make a purchase.

A Proven Counter-Meth Record in Illinois: Illinois has had some success combating use of methamphetamines thanks to the Southern Illinois Enforcement Group, a program paid for in part by federal Byrne Justice Assistance Grants. The Byrne grants helped this 31-county task force pay five of its 12 agents. The Bush Administration proposed eliminating the grant program from the FY 2006 budget. Barack Obama supported an amendment to the Justice Department spending bill that increased funding for the Byrne program from $625.5 million to $900 million for 2006.

Fight Meth’s Precursor Chemicals: Drug enforcement experts have long believed that methamphetamines can be best fought by striking at the source: the factories that produce its precursor chemicals. Unlike cocaine and marijuana, drugs that are derived from widespread, easily grown plants, methamphetamines are based on legally-manufactured chemicals produced in only nine factories worldwide (one in Germany, one in the Czech Republic, two in China, and five in India). Restricting global imports of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine according to national pharmaceutical demand could help cut off drug labs. Mexico, for example, imported 224 tons of precursor chemicals in 2004—an amount twice the estimated national need.

Take on the Mexican Cartels: The United States' aggressive lab seizures and restrictions on over-the-counter sale of ephedrine- and pseudoephedrine-based products have compelled Mexican drug cartels to move their operations south of the border. Today, 65 percent of methamphetamines in the United States come from Mexican cartels. When the State Department began working with the Mexican government to restrict precursor imports, the cartels moved manufacturing operations to Latin America and began importing freshly manufactured methamphetamines from Asia. Obama believes that the role of Mexican drug cartels and their global network must be thoroughly addressed by the international community.
Barack Obama | On the Issues: Law Enforcement and Justice
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