What happened to Andrea Circle Bear and Sarah Lee Circle Bear? American `justice’

FMC Carswell

Andrea Circle Bear died in federal custody Tuesday, April 28. Andrea Circle Bear is the first woman to die of Covid-19 while in federal custodyAndrea Circle Bear was convicted of a minor offense and should never have been in prison in the first place. When Andrea Circle Bear was sentenced, she was five months pregnant; she should never have been in prison. 

Andrea Circle Bear’s story is a familiar one for Native women in the United States. Andrea Circle Bear lived in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian reservation. In April 2018, Andrea Circle Bear was arrested and admitted to selling a small amount of methamphetamine. In March 2019, Andrea Circle Bear was charged. While awaiting trial, Andrea Circle Bear stayed in the Hughes County Jail, in Pierre, South Dakota. In November, Andrea Circle Bear was released for one day to attend divorce proceedings. On January 15, 2020, Andrea Circle Bear was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison. At the time, she was five months pregnant. Because of her pregnancy, Andrea Circle Bear was transferred to Federal Medical Facility Carswell, the only designated medical facility for women in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. FMC Carswell is in Fort Worth, Texas. 

When Andrea Circle Bear was removed from South Dakota, she was described as appearing to be healthy. Up to this moment, both the Hughes County Jail and Hughes County itself have no reported incidents of Coronavirus. The same cannot be said for Federal prisons in Texas.

As a newly arrived prisoner, Andrea Circle Bear was placed in quarantine on March 20. On March 28, due to concerns about her pregnancy, Andrea Circle Bear was taken to the hospital. She was returned to FMC Carswell the same day. On March 31, exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms, Andrea Circle Bear was taken back to the local hospital, where she was put on a ventilator. On April 1, Andrea Circle Bear underwent a caesarean, and gave birth. On April 4, Andrea Circle Bear was confirmed Covid-19 positive. On Tuesday, April 28, Andrea Circle Bear died. 

According to Andrea Circle Bear’s grandmother, Clara LeBeau, Andrea Circle Bear never belonged in prison in the first place and certainly should never have been shipped off to Texas. Andrea Circle Bear was the mother of five children. Because of earlier caesarean section births and other underlying medical conditions, she was considered a high-risk OB/GYN patient. Clara LeBeau told the court as much, and so did Andrea Circle Bear. According to Clara LeBeau, “She was concerned. She’s going somewhere to have her baby where she’s just not knowing the doctors and staff like she does here at the hospital in Pierre. I was concerned too, it bothered me. I said, ‘You shoulda told ‘em you were high risk,’ and she said she did. I guess they didn’t pay attention.” Andrea Circle Bear called her grandmother from Carswell: “She said ‘I told ‘em I was sick, I was in there four or five days and I was telling them but they didn’t pay attention.’ She said please call my grandma and tell her she’ll know and she’ll pray for me,’ but they didn’t even do that … I really believe it was their fault. If they’d known she was high-risk, they shouldn’t have even flown her. That was the start of everything.”

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, a minor offense. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Seeking justice, the family sued. Just this January, it was announced that the federal law suit would go forward, sometime this year.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was Andrea Circle Bear’s sister-in-law. 

If they’d paid attention, if they’d known. They paid attention, they knew. They didn’t care. As Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley noted, “Andrea should never have been in jail in the first place. Period. That she was there at all is cruel and negligent.” Cruel and negligent … but not unusual. Senator Dick Durbin concurs: “Andrea Circle Bear committed a low-level nonviolent drug offense, but she did not deserve to die, and an innocent child did not deserve to lose his mother. The Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons must act to prevent more death and suffering, and they must act now.” If history is any indication, Andrea Circle Bear’s death will not compel any federal agency into any action, other than a cover-up.

What happened to Andrea Circle Bear and Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. Just another two Native American woman dead in custody somewhere in the United States, missing and murdered.

(Photo Credit: Federal Bureau of Prisons)

What happened to Renée Davis? Just another Native woman killed by police

Renée Davis

On Friday, October 21, 23-year-old mother of three, Renée Davis was killed, in her living room, by two police officers making a “wellness check” on her. Renée Davis lived, and died, on the Muckleshoot Reservation, in Washington State. Renée Davis is the fifth Native American woman to be killed by police this year. On March 27, 27-year-old Loreal Juana Barnell-Tsingine was shot five times by a police officer in Winslow, Arizona. In January, in Washington State, Jacqueline Salyers was killed under disputed circumstances. In February, in Alaska, police shot and killed Patricia Kruger. In the same month, in Arizona, police killed Sherrisa Homer. Last year, police did not kill any Native American women. This year, it’s fast becoming the new normal. Native Americans top the charts on police killings.

According to Renée Davis’ sister, Danielle Bargala, Renée Davis was five months pregnant and struggling with depression. On Friday evening, Renée Davis texted someone that she was in a bad way, and that person called the police to check in on her: “It’s really upsetting because it was a wellness check. Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.” It’s also really upsetting because it repeats an all-too-familiar script. Police encounters with Native women struggling with mental illness too often result in Native women lying dead in their homes or on the streets, more often than not as a consequence of seeking help: “The high rate of these killings is also a result of the comparative dearth of mental healthcare services for Native Americans, says Bonnie Duran, an Opelousas/Coushatta tribe descendent … People threatening suicide and experiencing other mental health crises made up one-quarter of all those killed by cops in the first half of 2016, according to data collected by the Washington Post; they made up nearly half of the Native deaths.”

The same happens in jails, as the death of Christina Tahhahwah demonstrates, and the jailhouse death of Sarah Lee Circle Bear reminds us that a Native woman in excruciating pain and agony, crying for help, will be ignored and worse.

According to today’s Washington PostFatal Force Index,” as of today, “785 people have been shot and killed by police in 2016.” Of those, Renée Davis is the most recent. Of the 785, 33 were women. Five of those women were Native American. According to The Guardian database, police have shot and killed 875 people this year. Where last year, police shot and killed 13 Native Americans, this year police have already shot and killed 14 Native Americans, of whom five were women. This means that, as of now, Native Americans, at 5.91deaths per million, top the charts on police killings.

Absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happened to Renée Davis, just another Native woman who needed and sought help and was killed by the State for so doing and so being. Danielle Bargala remembers her sister, “She was such a soft person.” Renée Davis leaves behind three children, whose ages are 2, 3 and 5: “Davis’ family is now trying to figure out where her children will go. For the moment … they are staying with relatives.”

 

(Photo Credit: Black Girl Tragic)

In New Zealand’s prisons, Māori women’s lives don’t matter

 

#NativeLivesMatter. Native women’s lives matter. Tell that to New Zealand Aotearoa. The island nation increasingly uses both names. Aotearoa, the Māori name, is being used with greater frequency. That may be so, but at the same time, the prisons of that island nation are overwhelmingly Māori, and in particular Māori women, and the State doesn’t care.

The active lack of concern for Māori women is shown in the new Te Tirohanga, or Focus, program in the prisons, a new program based on Māori principles: “With 8,500 prisoners among a national population of 4.5 million, New Zealand ranks as one of the highest jailers in the developed world. But as has been repeatedly highlighted in reports by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Māori component is staggering. While those who identify as Māori make up about 15% of the New Zealand population, the corresponding figure behind bars is more than 50%. Among women, for whom there is no Te Tirohanga option, it is higher still, at 60%.”

60 percent of the women in prison in New Zealand are Māori, and for them, there is no Te Tirohanga option. Why are Māori women excluded from this option?

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has long noted the dire mathematics of New Zealand’s prisons. In its 2014 report, the Working Group identified five areas of concern: over-incarceration; detention of Māori; detention of refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants; detention of persons with mental or intellectual disabilities; detention of children and young persons. The only people not over incarcerated are White adults not living with mental or intellectual disabilities. For Māori women, however, the situation is dire: “The over-representation of Māori in the prison population poses a significant challenge as recognised in New Zealand’s National Report to the 2014 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the Human Rights Council. Māori make up more than 50 per cent of the prison population while Māori comprise some 15 per cent of the population of New Zealand. In the case of Maõri women, they account for more than 65 per cent of the prison population … The Working Group recalls that the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Human Rights Committee and, in two reports, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, have recommended that New Zealand increase its efforts to prevent the discrimination against Māori in the administration of justice. Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the overrepresentation of Māori women.”

Particular concerns have been raised in relation to the overrepresentation of Māori women. How has the State responded? For Māori women, there is no Te Tirohanga option. In its most recent Census Report, the New Zealand government includes prison populations under Living outside the norm: An analysis of people living in temporary and communal dwellings. Too often, prisons come up as “outside the norm”, but for Māori women, it’s exactly the opposite. Prison is the norm, and, for prisons, Māori women are the norm. Neil Campbell, the director of Māori for the New Zealand Aotearoa Department of Corrections looks at the Te Tirohanga program and wonders, “If this is such a great program, why are we limiting it to the five whare [units]? Why aren’t we running it in the community? Why don’t women have access to it?” Why don’t Māori women have access to it? Because, for the State, Māori women’s lives don’t matter.

 

(Photo Credit: New Zealand Department of Corrections)

Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for care

Sarah Lee Circle Bear

On July 6, Sarah Lee Circle Bear was “found” unconscious in a holding cell in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Women’s bodies keep being “found” in jails across the United States. Police are killing Native American women, such as Christina Tahhahwah, at a staggering rate. Overrepresented in prisons and jails, Native Americans are beyond overrepresented in jail mortality rates. They are the dumped and “found”. Sarah Lee Circle Bear’s death is typical as is the excruciating pain and suffering she was forced to endure as she died in agony, screaming and begging for care.

Sarah Lee Circle Bear was 24 years old, a Lakota woman, the mother of two children, aged one and two. She was picked up for a bond violation, which is to say for not much. According to other prisoners, before being transferred to a holding cell, Sarah Lee Circle Bear told her jailers that she was suffering excruciating pain. The staff told her to “knock it off” and “quit faking”. Inmates called to the staff to help her. The staff came, picked Sarah Lee Circle Bear up off the floor, dragged her out of the cell, and transferred to a holding cell. Later, they “found” Sarah Lee Circle Bear “unresponsive.” Her family is now seeking justice.

Prisoners, and especially those in jails, die in agony, begging and screaming for care. From 2000 through 2012, close to 13,000 people died in local jails. The State lists “cause of death” but never includes the State among those. Sarah Lee Circle Bear died in agony, screaming and begging for help. Her fellow prisoners screamed as well.

This is Chuneice Patterson’s story. A prisoner in the Onondaga County Justice Center, in Syracuse, New York, Chuneice Patterson died, November 2, 2009, of ectopic pregnancy. She spent hours in agony begging for care. No one came. Amy Lynn Cowling died, in December 2010, in excruciating pain in the Gregg County Jail, in Texas. From coast to coast and border to border, a national community has built with the shrieks of women in jail, dying in excruciating pain and suffering, screaming and begging for care. No one comes or, worse, they come and drag her away. The dead who are “found” are “unresponsive”? It’s the other way around.

What happened to Sarah Lee Circle Bear? Nothing much. All part of the plan. Just another Native American woman dead in a jail somewhere in the United States.

 

(Photo Credit: Terrance Circle Bear, Sr. / Indian Country Today)