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  • Writer's pictureAntonio Gonzales

American Indian mother of two dies in police custody after her repeated pleas for help ignored


24-year-old Sarah Lee Circle Bear ... alive

The ugly American secret has been exposed. All across the country, women and men are dying in police custody and have been by the thousands every year.

Four days before Sandra Bland was arrested in Waller County, Texas, a 24-year-old American Indian woman of the Lakota tribe, Sarah Lee Circle Bear of Clairmont, South Dakota, was arrested on a simple bond violation.

Witnesses stated that before being transferred to a holding cell, Circle Bear pleaded to jailers that she was in excruciating pain. Jail staff responded by dismissing her cries for help, telling her to “knock it off,” and “quit faking.” Inmates cried out for the jail staff to help Circle Bear, to which they eventually responded by picking her up off of the floor, dragging her out of the cell, and transferring her to a holding cell. Circle Bear was later found unresponsive in the holding cell.

This is completely despicable. It's worse than that—the actions (or inaction) of the jail directly caused Sarah's death. The American justice system is full of so many egregious human rights violations that it truly needs to be shut down and rebooted from scratch.

Sarah was a mother of two babies. The entire trajectory and quality of their lives will be forever changed by this. Ralkina Jones, another beloved mother of young children, died in police custody in Cleveland under very similar circumstances.

What we now know is that American Indians, relative to their size of the population, actually make up three of the five most likely demographics to be killed by police in America. In other words, while many of us think of the deep injustices faced by our indigenous sisters and brothers as historic, they are actually very present and current.

As we have done for Sandra Bland, we must now demand answers and evidence in the death of Sarah Lee Circle Bear.

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