Eureka, CA — A video uploaded to YouTube this week has put the small town of Eureka, California's police force on the radar as it shows one of their officers admitting to telling a Native American man to "go back to the reservation."
An internal investigation is now underway after the department became aware of the situation. According to the person who took the video, Pete Yellow Bird, the incident began as he was attempting to work on his car last Thursday.
Yellow Bird says he had just put ramps under his wheels to work on his car when he was approached by Officer Drake Goodale and his partner, Det. Neil Hubbard — both with the city’s quality-of-life POP unit.
A POP unit or Problem Oriented Policing Unit is a proactive police force that patrols neighborhoods and encourages police to have one-on-one communications with neighbors to build relationships.
The officer in this POP unit, however, allegedly had no desire to build any community relationship with Yellow Bird.
The officers said they approached Yellow Bird to tell him that he couldn't work on his vehicle in the public parking lot despite it not being illegal.
What happened prior to Yellow Bird turning on his phone and recording is disputed. However, at least one part of it isn't, and that was the officer telling him to "go back to the reservation."
“This dude told me to go back to the reservation. Go back to the reservation?” Yellow Bird says. “Is that what you told me to do?”
“Absolutely,” Goodale responds.
“For what?” Yellow Bird asks.
“Why not?” says Goodale.
During the interaction, Yellow Bird uses foul language and is clearly agitated with the officers questioning him. However, he had done nothing illegal.
Yellow Bird points out that there are heroin needles scattered all over the area and people selling heroin, and expresses his frustration with the officers singling him out instead of going after heroin dealers.
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After the officers checked Yellow Bird's ID and looked inside his car, they allowed him to carry on with his repairs. But not before Yellow Bird gave them a piece of his mind.
When reached for comment about the video, Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson told the Lost Coast Outpost that he and his senior staff became aware of the video on Monday. He has assigned one of the department’s captains to investigate the matter. And though he said that there is much still to be learned about the incident — including everything that happened before the camera started rolling — he said that what the video showed was troubling.
���What I saw appears to indicate that an officer lost his composure,” Watson said. “We’re going to investigate this, and if we find violations of policy we’re going to address it quickly and we’re going to address it firmly.”
Watson also noted that the video shows what police officers have to deal with on a regular basis when out conducting their rounds. However, he said that no matter how ugly a person gets with an officer, they are not justified in using racially insensitive comments like that one.
“No matter how nasty someone is to an officer, we have to maintain our composure,” Watson said. “We have to be better than that.”
Yellow Bird told the Outpost that the internal investigation will likely not lead to any substantial accountability and is merely standard procedure. He is most likely correct in that regard.
“In my opinion, he doesn’t deserve to be working on the streets anymore,” he said of Goodale. “He needs to get some training on how to be a better human being.”
Although Yellow Bird was frustrated with being harassed by police, his conduct during the stop could have made the situation much worse. If he would have stopped heckling the officers and simply had Goodale admit to the racist comment, he would have had far more credibility as a victim.
Now, however, because he used curse words, flipped the bird, and mocked the officers, claiming victimhood in this incident will receive less sympathy—despite none of his actions being illegal.
As TFTP has reported on numerous occasions, flipping the bird and cursing are constitutionally protected forms of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court even ruled, in City of Houston v. Hill, that police must tolerate even more abusive speech than an average citizen.
As to why Yellow Bird was likely so offended, Ramone Romero, lays out just how terrible it is to tell an Native American to "go back to the reservation."
Of course it is completely racist. Thinking that you have the authority to tell an Indian to “Go back to the reservation” shows that you feel they are racially inferior and you are racially superior (otherwise you would have no authority to tell them where to go). But it’s much more than racist.
All of North America is their land. Never mind that most Natives actually don’t live on reservations, ask yourself: Why did Native people lose their homeland when they used to live free on the whole continent? What happened? Which side broke treaty after treaty (and is still breaking treaties now – just the other day the state of Michigan transferred 8,000 acres of treaty-protected land to a mining company)? Which side took away children and sent them to boarding schools where they weren’t allowed to speak their languages, got beaten if they did, and got abused in countless other ways? Which side didn’t have religious freedom until 1979? Which side had generations of children stolen and “adopted” to families outside of their community?
What does it mean to say to an Indian, “Go back to the reservation”?
It means, “Stay oppressed.” “Stay beaten down.” “We are better than you.” “You don’t belong in your homeland.” “You have to obey and go away because you’re inferior.” “You don’t matter.” “You’re nothing.” “Go back to your confinement.”